Metafiction and ‘The Familiar’

Knowing full well that Danielewski is a novelist writing in the age of ‘post-postmodernism’ (cf. metamodernism) and realizing immediately that elements of metafiction would bleed heavily throughout the novel, I set out reading The Familiar actively searching for such elements.

I think we all discovered upon reading the first chapter that Danielewski’s playful style meant the freedom on his part to interject various comments into the narrative; actually, these ‘comments’ are if anything clarifications: dates, facts, allusions, corrections, etc., offset by a strange form of dotted punctuation. We learn much later in the novel that these intertextual remarks come from a more sophisticated metafictional device, none other than TF-Narcon⁹ and its infinite offspring. The novel literally “pauses” after page 562—the page numbers vanish, the ‘Narrative Construct’ introduces itself, and then a dozen or so pages are spent outlining its nature and parameters. For the reader, this is both a bizarre and rather enlightening moment. We learn the identity of this narrative ‘intruder’ and make the proper links to Xanther’s Question Song, Anwar’s Paradise Open, Cas’ Orb, and a number of other previously unrelated inclusions.

Meta-commentary also comes, albeit somewhat cryptically, in the form of font names at the very back of the text. TF-Narcon⁹, for instance, is typed in “MetaPlus-,” yet another meta-wink from Mr. Danielewski. (More discussion on fonts can be found here.)

The final metafictional element I wish to discuss is the title of the novel and its presence within the text. I’ve counted nineteen instances of the word “familiar” in The Familiar, and with each use the word is highlighted in pink. I have yet to explore precisely how and at what moments Danielewski chooses to use the title word, but my literary instincts tell me that route might be a dead end. The only exception that jumped out at me was when the word is used three times in the same sentence on page 705, when Anwar is remarking how oddly easy it is to slip into a rapport with his two biological daughters (this, perhaps, in stark contrast to his relationship with Xanther, whom he loves but finds quite challenging).

Nonetheless, I invite everyone to contribute any findings! At every moment, it seems, Danielewski is hitting the reader over the head with the fact that the physical object in hand is artifice, a constructed text that is very aware of its own construction. I’ve only scratched the surface, though, especially with Narcons—there’s a lot more there.

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