Web Elements in the First Section of The Familiar
Danielewski makes great creative strides in The Familiar, breaking the traditional mold of what our conception of “the novel” is. This novel’s plot transcends the confines of its binding and reaches out to readers across the globe. In this way, it mirrors the perceived infinite reach of the internet. As it progresses, the novel becomes more and more like the web. This can be seen in terms of both the characters and the physical set up of the novel.
Of particular interest is the character of Xanther, who loves to sing her question song. Through her questions, she is learning more about the world. This gives her a sense of comfort. It also allows her to connect with her family and her past. Her curiosity extends beyond her body, just as this novel’s plot extends beyond the point of view of a single character or continent. She reaches out into the world for many reasons, among them, to learn more about it, like a perpetual search engine. In this way, Xanther showcases the web element in The Familiar.
From the opening pages of the novel, readers have their conceptions of what a novel (or even reading) is turned upside down. Just after the unnumbered page that depicts the word “PANTHEON” there is a picture of a similarly columned building, and atop each of the columns are groups of seemingly unrelated letters that upon closer examination, spell out the words “MORE THAN READING.” That is exactly what this novel is, “more than reading.” Its very set-up is immersive, opening up a new way to look at the world, the concept of time, and the act of reading itself.
Much like the web, this novel is interactive. It is next to impossible to passively read this novel. Again, this is due to the graphic elements of the novel. Instead of conforming to the standard rectangular block of text on a rectangular page in a rectangular book, Danielewski takes risks in the way that the text is laid out on the page. An example of this can be seen on pages 156-157. The text appears to form an orb on the page. A visual symbol is juxtaposed with the text here, much like it would be on a webpage. Though the reader is physically constrained by the pages and cannot engage with or click on the orb, the image still has a great deal of impact. The textual outline of the orb causes readers to wonder what this represents. It has a metaphorical power of connection, reaching out to the reader. Even if the orb is not actually mentioned on a specific page in Bobby and Cas’s section (pgs. 133-157), it still has an impact. Readers can also see how even in the opening pages of the novel that idea of the web makes itself known when pictures reminiscent of web video streaming screens take up a series of pages. Visual media works in conjunction with the text to craft an eloquent and enthralling story that allows The Familiar to span genders, generations, and continents, just like the web.