The Revealing of Character Through Formatting
One of the most interesting things for me about The Familiar is the fact that Mark Z. Danielewski takes the time to pick out how the different chapters for each character will be formatted. I’m not sure if this topic has been covered before (it is my understanding that my class is a little bit behind some of the others) but regardless it is one that has caught my interest and I was hoping to get some ideas and feedback on the matter from others in this forum.
When it comes to the formatting of the different points of view, I’m not talking so much about the font size or the line spacing but more about the punctuation. Each character has a distinct format that makes it a little difficult on the first run through to distinguish who is who and how they think, and what new sort of weird format am I going to have to deal with this time but it gets easier as the book continues.
Though each chapter follows a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ with each character, which is definitely not unheard of, I don’t think I’ve seen it vary quite this much from character to character before reading The Familiar. Seeing as Danielewski doesn’t seem to do anything without reason, I would mark these differences as important. In fact, I would argue that the distinct formatting of each character’s chapter reveals a little bit more about them without having to come right out and say it to the readers. It’s actually a really clever way of getting to know them.
For example, Xanther takes us into her mind and it is with her that we get to experience her Question Song firsthand before we see it through her parent’s point of view. Readers get to experience Xanther jumping around from thought to thought and some of the ongoing anxiety that comes with this type of thinking. Almost immediately readers deduce that something is not quite right with her due to how her chapters are set up. Her thoughts about ‘how many raindrops’ make this most explicit when she runs herself into a state that she can’t control, “Exhausting herself. Like running-of-of-breath exhausting herself” (64). Long before it’s revealed explicitly that Xanther has epilepsy, it’s made clear by her thoughts that not all is mentally sound within her.
Anwar’s narration, on the other hand, is set up to resemble programming. Rather than using normal punctuation, his sections of The Familiar use brackets (both curly and standard) as well was slashes to organize his thoughts. It’s very reminiscent of HTML or something similar. Through this narration choice, readers can conclude that Anwar is a problem solver, the biggest puzzle in his life being his daughter. Again, as with Xanther, it can be speculated that he is some sort of programmer before it’s stated plainly.
Astair’s thoughts read much like she is still writing and rewriting her thesis,‘Hope’s Nest: On the Necessity of God’ (121), with large (almost unnecessarily so) words scattered throughout and parentheses inside parentheses which are inside even more parentheses. She is constantly in the process of analyzing and editing, even within her own mind. Though it is stated rather early in her narration that she is a student, her thought process proves to reaffirm this showing how she approaches education (as well as being a mother) with diligence and maybe just a little bit of over thinking.
Since these are the three characters I feel like I’ve learned the most about, I haven’t gotten a good grasp on what the different formats would mean for the rest of the cast and was hoping to get some feedback about that. Any ideas?