A Very Rainy 839 Pages

There are many things that make a recurring appearance in The Familiar. People have posted about the ideas of non-English jargon, animals, colors, narcons, religion, the number 9, hearing a strange sound, and other things that come up more than once. We discussed many of these in class as well, but I have been wondering about the presence of rain. Obviously, the story is about “One Rainy Day in May” but I think there is actual meaning in it, a sort of deeper theme (and I would love some ideas on what that meaning is, what Danielewski’s point was).

Rain is extremely important in Xanther’s story. In the beginning, Xanther feared she would have another seizure while trying to count all of the raindrops. At the climax of her story, Xanther runs out in the rain to save the cat. Shasti and Freya go out into the rain with the expensive dog bed which Astair is forced to buy. Later, they were playing outside in the rain with no clothes and a water hose and Astair even reminisces on a time in which she played outside in the rain in much the same way. Additionally, rain is visually represented in a big way. For example, there are pages and pages of lines of words across those pages in the shape of rain. Sometimes the story is told with falling words, like rain drops, as well.

Even though Xanther’s story is the main story of The Familiar, the “One Rainy Day in May” applies to all of the other stories as well. If rain isn’t apparent in a story, I’ve noticed that some form of water is present. Luther walks across water, pushes Hopi into a pool of water, etc. Why didn’t he make it “One Hot Day in June” or “One Snowy Day in December” or even just “One Sunny Day in May”? Would the stories have been different in some ways if it wasn’t raining (apparently all over the world) that day?


One response to “A Very Rainy 839 Pages”

  1. creativekat24601 says :

    This was a detail of the novel that I was interested in as well. I think that there is a heavy influence and symbolism in the use of rain rather than any other form of weather or precipitation that Danielewski could have used. I have been repeatedly reminded since the first literary analysis class I ever took that the symbolism of water in literature often stands for change, purification, adaptation, and sometimes even a new awakening. I think that it is possible that Danielewski applies rain/water to stand as a symbol for those things in the text, but like the separate and possibly linked stories in the novel he uses rain/water to embody distinctive symbolic meanings in these stories separately as well.

    Much like the mysterious wail that is heard strung throughout the stories it is important to note that each separate story and its accompanying characters deals with rain/water in varying forms, and reacts differently as well. While Luther uses water to smother Hopi, arguably causing Hopi to come out cleansed in a way in the end, Xanther reacts to the rain by being sucked into one of her endless and erratic question songs that threatens to drive her into an epileptic event. This kind of reaction can be seen as the opposite of pure and cleansing; the rain puts Xanther into one of the most confusing, terrifying, and unpleasant settings of her life. This being said, it cannot be ignored that later in her story the rain is what gives her the focus and clarity to locate the drowning cat, very opposite to this first exposure we get to Xanther and how she reacts to rain.

    This interesting parallel of rain serving as a catalyst for chaos before clarity is also something that occurs in more than one story, or at least to more than one character, considering that Astair’s first dealing with water involves the unfortunate addition of having to purchase the ludicrous dog bed that her daughters trotted out into the rain with. Following this seemingly stressful and less than pleasant experience, she comes home to find her wild children now playing out in the rain, and while she initially is tempted to enact punishment, the rain and the scene accompanying it bring to mind more pleasant memories that curb her anger and lead her to help bring those memories back to life for both her daughters and herself.

    While these are only a couple instances of the ways in which Danielewski uses water and rain throughout the text to accomplish specific symbolic goals with his characters, I think that rain itself is quite a flexible medium to work with when creating a specific mood within a text. The fact that rain/water can be employed to mean all of these things, and can be manipulated in the course of one story to completely change the way it is working as a symbol in the novel is very convenient and very versatile, something that I think fits Danielewski’s writing style very well.

    While I’m unsure we will ever be able to truly uncover all of the specific reasons that Danielewski chose a rainy day in May as the setting for this first volume rather than something else, the text does provide us with some good spring boards to start analyzing the symbolism and how it works not only in the text overall, but for each of the characters individually. This even leads me to wonder how moving the symbolism from an overarching tale to many different ones affects the complexity and understanding of rain/water as a symbol in the text?

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