The Familiar as a Novel
Before the page numbers of The Familiar even begin, it is evident to the reader that this is not a typical print novel and while this is intentionally done by Danielewski, the serialized nature of the book and the “front matter” call into question if the work can necessarily be classified as a novel. The elements of a novel are present such as characters, setting, and to a degree plot however the nature of the book seems to border more as a reference book or a short story rather than a true novel. The central story line of Xanther and her immediate family could be considered the true plot of the novel, however that would mean that all the accompanying stories merely exist to provide supplementary material to this story line and in that aspect could be categorized as disconnected reference material.
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a novel is, “an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events” and while The Familiar meets the expectation of length, the requirement of “usually connected sequence of events” is called into question. Aside from the common setting of LA for a few of the stories, there is no evidence indicating any relationship between Xanther and the other characters. Also the fact that Xanther’s story line is the most developed and readable of the different perspectives, it also calls into question what the important details of the so-called novel are. While in novels there are main and supporting characters, I don’t believe that the characters not involved in Xanther’s life could even be called supporting because that would mean there’s a relationship present. These characters are central to their plot lines and therefore would be classified as main characters, but this provides a conflict between their status in the novel.
While I’m sure Danielewski’s inclusion of these characters are important, I wonder what their role could be called. Are they main characters, supporting characters, or merely figures imagined to serve as reference or background to a more complex novel? And could The Familiar even be called a novel, or is it more of a short story or novella with included reference material to supplement a more important plot line?