comfort within uncomfortable endings

Although I am frustrated by how many questions and threads are left (un)”answerable” at the end of the book Xanther’s narrative did end up feeling “manageable.” For all of The Familiar’s experimentation, I believe I fully understand Xanther’s narrative and the convention(ality) of it. Does the kitten live? I adamantly believe so. Hopi dies, the cat will survive– so says convention. And even though many parts of the story are left teetering, there’s a balance to Xanther’s story. She, the girl who is always being cared for now is the caregiver and she takes great joy in it. The service dog, on the other hand, would have been another caregiver for her.  It’s a beautifully simple plot. Of course it connects with the theme of ‘prey'(different than patient or needing care, but similar) which we see in other parts of the book: Anwar’s game is about prey and predator and Bobby and Cas are being hunted down. Additionally, looking ahead to the preview for Volume 2 that there is a section told from the point of view of a predator: a bird of prey.


5 responses to “comfort within uncomfortable endings”

  1. cwells19 says :

    I definitely agree with how you said that it was better for Xanther to have the kitten instead of the dog because it is something she can take care of. I also think that it is better for her because she can relate to the kitten because it is as fragile as she is. Also, saving the kitten gave her a sense of control when she normally feels helpless. I also like how she placed the kitten’s health before her own and Anwar allowed her to do so. However, I was wondering why Astair lied about being allergic to cats and was not supportive of Xanther keeping the kitten even though it makes her happy?

    • awehrwein says :

      Yes, although @cwells19 I think you are maybe asking the wrong question. Astair isn’t just allergic (or lying about being allergic)–she is pathologically phobic of cats! Not only does she allude to it, but her language shows us (658). But why? Where does this fear/hatred come from? Volume 1 doesn’t answer (as far as I can tell? Anyone?) and it’s one of the MAJOR (and frustrating, disappointing) unanswered questions for me.

  2. lheyman says :

    I definitely agree with the well-placed juxtaposition of Xanther becoming a caretaker instead of the one being cared for at the end of the story. Having her get a dog to calm her down and basically be her bodyguard would be far too easy because that is what is expected, and as we all have seen by now, this book is far from the expected. A dog also could have potentially halted character development for several characters. Xanther wouldn’t have to take control of her life quite as much because she would have her dog to alert anyone of a potential episode. It is very clear Astair hates cats and whether or not she is legitimately allergic or not has been yet to be seen. Astair’s behavior in the final chapters was some of the oddest I’ve seen and made it clear that she has a lot more to deal with that we are not yet aware of. Based on Astair’s reaction, it seems like the dog was just as much (if not more) for Astair as it was for Xanther since Astair was still livid about the cat even though Xanther just kept on smiling about it. I also have faith that Xanther will be on the rise in the coming volumes, and I think showing her strength now in this small way is a good way to hint at this.

  3. dylandavis2015 says :

    I’m going to also agree with your assessment that the last thing Xanther needed was another caregiver. It was a perfect thing for her narrative to continue in a fresh way. To me, while yes, the answers aren’t there and the questions seem to continue to multiply, all I can hear in my head is “On the next–” except it’s a strange robotic voice saying “THE FAMILIAR,” instead of Ron Howard saying “Arrested Development.” This book felt exactly like the pilot episode for a television show. “One Rainy Day in May,” is even a great title for an episode of a show. And as large as the book was, it all takes place in one day. I think that The Familiar, in terms of remediation, is trying to establish itself as a television series (read: book series) that is going to take it’s time getting to the climax of the narrative arc. Much like the first season of “The Leftovers,” or the first season of “The Wire.”

    We as readers think that each novel should have their own individual narrative arc that is satisfying at the end. I submit that “The Familiar, Volume 1” is not a novel. It doesn’t want to be a novel. It wants to be read as a series and internalized the same way we do with television.

    There’s a bit of evidence for this, I think. It seems as though there are no clear villains in the story. Luther maybe, but not really. Maybe the Narcons? We don’t really know because nothing has been established. In most television series, the clear villain of the narrative arc in a season isn’t revealed for quite awhile. Rarely if ever do we find out who’s killing all the people, stealing all the money, and selling all the drugs in the first episode. What we do see is introduction to each character. We watch the introduced characters complete a miniature story arc (Xanther’s new found responsibility, Luther’s actions, etc.) That will then play significant roles to the decisions they make much later in the season. Maybe Xanther will embody care giving in some later narrative conflict with an even more dangerous enemy.

    That’s what stories do most of the time. And MZD, while extremely experimental and who seems to wish to push every boundary in story telling, may not be pushing this boundary. If MZD had said that “The Familiar,” was re-mediating any other art form, I don’t think I would have believed him. It just reads too similar to television series to me.

    • makaylaadamson says :

      I love how you point out that we can’t really look at this as a book. We have been conditioned to expect certain things when we’re devouring books. We expect our protagonist to encounter a problem and eventually resolve that problem. We like things to be wrapped up in pretty bows with all of our questions answered so that we may sleep soundly at night. That’s not what Danielewski gave us.
      If we have learned anything about our author, it is that he likes to go against the grain and defy expectations. What better way to achieve those goals than by writing a book that’s more like a television show? Season finales have cliffhangers in order to keep you coming back for more. I feel like the same technique is in play here. Especially considering how many volumes Danielewski intends to write. You don’t just resolve everything in the first book of series, just like you don’t give everything away in a pilot.

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