I’m the kind of reader that always has a pencil in my hand. I’m not afraid to mark the pages of a book: with checkmarks, brackets, lines, comments, single words, definitions, and unconnected phrases. However, I’ve found myself interacting with Danielewski’s book in a slightly different and more intentional way. Each storyline in The Familiar has a different presentation style and some leave plenty of empty space in the margins. As my pencil pauses over those pages, my immediate reaction is that there is more space for marking. Sometimes, however, I’ve found that the extra empty space actually forbids my errant additions. In this book, the space on the page means something, and I hesitate to interfere with it. This has raised a question for me: does empty space on a page invite the reader in or block them out?
The answer to this question might vary on a case-by-case basis within the text. One example of blank space is in Astair’s recollection of Xanther’s longest seizure, on the unnumbered pages between 241 and 254. The numbered depictions of the seconds ticking by and the large blank spaces made the reading time longer, inviting the reader to experience how long a 5:32 seizure might feel for someone watching it happen. This is most striking on pages 252 and 253 when the clock runs out and just the final time is printed on the page. In this case, blank space makes the reader empathetic.
There are other cases when the blank space is much less empathetic. For instance, Isandorno’s storyline has continual blank space around the text. The text in this case is much more concrete that some of the other stories. It is action-driven and direct, leaving out most of the emotions that might go along with the experiences. As a result, the blank space requires the reader to infer more from each line of text and put more of his or her own thoughts into the sparse words. For example, there’s only a single sentence on page 294. That single sentence suddenly becomes much more weighted and significant because of the blank space surrounding it. It becomes more like poetry than prose.
Blank space brings the reader into the text in various ways. It can create a certain emotion, encouraging empathy in the reader, or it can represent the hidden parts of the narration, encouraging the reader to project emotions onto the character.