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Danielewski, Astair, and Tai Chi

I found Astair’s dedication to Tai Chi a little odd.  While it was not something that played a pivotal role in the book, it is a central part of Astair’s habits.  She has also tried to include Xanther in this.

I don’t know much about Tai Chi, but in reading about Danielewski, I found an interesting quote from an interview (which may have already been linked):

“He compares the twinned ideas of emptiness or lack of meaning, with fullness or resolution, to Tai Chi, which he has studied for years. “A lot of that involves the exploration of emptiness and wholeness,” he says. “I’ve been exploring a lot of the emptiness, or even the emptying, of form. It seems sort of silly to not acknowledge, or allow a bit of that fullness to participate in the narrative, especially after such a long, hard experience.””


This exploration of emptiness and wholeness seems very in line with Astair’s way of thinking to me.  She sees her children in front of her and is happy, but she cannot cope with her disappointments. They live simultaneously.  Thoughts?


Playing With Narrative Structure

As I continue to read – especially now after having encounter Danielewski for the first time – I am always intrigued by an author’s to ability create some kind of new narrative dynamic which elevates the work above the traditional and direct paragraph/page by page form to something innovative and experimental while at the same time working completely within the limits of that same “page by page,” normal book form. Reading (or rather exploring) Danielewski’s work, it is easy to see that he enjoys playing with the narrative structure of his work a great deal. There is the plain story (or story lines) that live within the text, but to enhance these familiar plot structures there is the narrative style of the novel. Such a style I can honestly admit I have never encountered before, especially considering the entire middle section of the book when we finally learn that the book is being narrated by not one but three separate “Narcon” entities. This realization certainly adds to the complexity of the work, most notably in the fact that the reader becomes somewhat skeptical of these voices knowing that they are in some ways similar (and thus unreliable) as a character within the novel narrating the text his or herself.

With this in mind, I scoured the internet in search of some discussion on narrative form. Instead of landing on any number of high level, literarily critical essays, I landed on a reddit discussion page in which a broad range of readers have shared their most favorite narrative styles. I know that this may not help the confused reader of Danielewski in solving the complexity of his separate but invariably linked Narcons. However, it does provide a list of great, experimental literature and its always varying narrative styles.

The Physical Experience of The Familiar

I have heard that Danielewski will not publish this as an ebook, making sure that all readers have the same experience with page turning, etc.  I assume we all have the same pink publisher copy – I am wondering if anyone has any insight into what the physical copy of the book will look like (cover design, hard cover, same size pages?)?  I wonder if that will change significantly or if it will have any effect on the reader.

I ask this because there is a defined physical experience when reading this book.  I can think of several instances where the layout makes the reader interact with the book itself.  For example, between pages 461-513, I found the cadence with which I was turning pages seemed very intentional.  Additionally, the orb chapters always have a unique experience when the orb appears within the text, never letting you forget its presence.

What other sections have others found that turns reading into a more physical experience?

The Parameters

The Narcon section of the book (pages 563-579) has already been discussed by a few other posters, but I wanted to address it in a somewhat basic and systematic way by looking at the parameters that define it. The way that I understand the Narcon is that it is the book’s narrator, or one of them. In the Narcon section, the book itself begins to explain how it’s been written and what its limits are, breaking the “fourth wall” between the narrator and the reader. Given this understanding, some of the parameters presented by the Narcon raised specific questions for me.


Parameter 1: MetaNarcons do not exist

If MetaNarcons don’t exist, what is the role of the author? Can the author be considered a MetaNarcon? According to the Narcon, a MetaNarcon would be some kind of narrative explanation of a Narcon. Since the Narcon is explained within the book, wouldn’t that mean that there is a MetaNarcon? Does that mean that the Narcon is its own MetaNarcon?


Parameter 2: Narcons cannot interact with other Narcons

If Narcons can’t interact with other Narcons, does that mean that there is only one Narcon for the entire book? The only issue with that is that on page 576, TF-Narcon9 says that it doesn’t know what happened to Xanther’s former therapist, Mrs. Goolsend, but the next page immediately explains what happens to her in another, bolded font. Is that another Narcon interjecting? Wouldn’t that indicate that they can interact?


Parameter 3: Narcons cannot interact with non-Narcons and vice-versa

The Narcon says that it can’t hear how the reader will respond or register “how or if my friendliness was received.” (564) However, I think that the reader (a non-Narcon) arguably can interact with the Narcon. Actually, I think that might be the point. Since there will be subsequent books that take reader input into account, the Narcon will, in a sense, be interacting with the reader. So does the relationship between the reader and the Narcon make Parameter 3 invalid? Does it mean that this Narcon has transcended the bounds of what it means to be a traditional narrator or a normal Narcon?


Parameter 4: All Narcons are bracketed

The braille brackets seem to have been established as an indication of the Narcon speaking. But if that’s the case, who is telling the rest of the story? TF-Narcon9 knows almost everything about what Xanther says and where she goes, and it seems to indicate that it is the one telling the stories about Xanther, Anwar, jingjing, Luther, etc. If it is telling the entire story, then it seems like the braille brackets are just its direct thoughts. If that’s not the case, does that mean that there is a “MetaNarcon” that is telling the entire story? Could the cover of the book be considered a “bracket” that contains the MetaNarcon?


Parameter 5: Form is not a Narcon limit

This might be the most confusing parameter. My understanding of the Narcon is that it is a type of narrator that is telling the stories of the characters. Does this parameter mean that the other volumes of The Familiar will come in different forms (it mentions musical, performative, etc.)? Or, does it mean that the Narcon will take other forms within the novel itself? This might be a stretch, but the Narcon mentions that it could take the form of an animal. Could the cat that Xanther rescues be an appearance of the Narcon?


Is anyone else feeling slightly frustrated with Danielewski at this point? I have finished 400 pages of a book, and half the time, I haven’t a clue where it is going.  I find myself clinging to the Xanther stories (and Anwar and Astair’s by association) as a sort of scaffolding to support my interest.   I find my interesting peaking when one of those sections comes up.

The scope is throwing me off.  I am growing to understand Luther’s storyline, but only because it has been given several significant sections.  I am very confused as to the relevance of several others (“Yeah man. Something died.” “palace above the day” “Veinte pesos” to name a few).  So far, the only thing I know they have in common is their timestamp putting them into the timeline.

I am curious and excited to see how (if?) all of these will tie together, or if we really are just seeing snapshots of One Rainy Day in May.  Despite this, I would appreciate a sense of where this is going.  As each chapter shifts, I sometimes have a hard time regaining focus or finding relevance.  Am I the only one experiencing this? How have other readers been keeping track of the storylines?