As I was reading through “The Horrosphere” section, a piece of Danielewski’s writing caught my attention. On page 327, Xanther is narrating/speaking about her life. Danielewski writes, “…because resisting takes up so much more energy. That’s one of the things about the questions, maybe the biggest thing?, they take up a lot of energy. Like they exhaust her.” As I thought about this idea of energy and what it means to “take up energy,” I decided to look up the definition of the word. Through my Google search, I found this definition: “the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity.” Even though this novel is so large, I don’t think it would be crazy to focus in on every word Danielewski has written. His work is clearly meant to be analyzed with extreme detail. As Xanther states that questions exhaust her, I cannot help but remember several sections in the novel where she asks many questions to those around her. On page 95, Xanther asks and answers a plethora of questions, but does not seem to grow tired. This conversation centers around Dov, though.
Dov’s death affects the character of Xanther significantly and is directly tied to the idea of energy within Danielewski’s work. This section of questions seems to give Xanther energy because it is centered around Dov. In other sections of the novel, though, the thought of Dov or his death overwhelms Xanther to the point of experiencing a seizure. It seems as though Dov is a point of energy for Xanther–one that can have positive or negative outcomes. The title of the novel The Familiar highlights the idea of something being well-known or recognizable. Maybe the idea of Dov’s life gives Xanther the positive energy she needs to survive, and the all too well-known idea of Dov’s death is what breaks her down. This familiarity of Dov sparks something deep inside of Xanther.
Xanther’s narrative seems to be mainly concerned with interiority: the suppression of impulses, storming thoughts, epilepsy, etc. As to be expected by such a level of suppression, her narrative, thus far, seems to be the most uneventful: a simple daughter-and-father walk on a rainy day. Even the subtitle of the volume, A Rainy Day in May, suggests tranquil, almost pastoral themes. This is highly contrasted the narratives of Jingjing, Luther, Ozgur, etc., which are splattered with violence, particularly Luther and its crude aggression and lewdness, and Jinjing’s, which while not violent in the conventional sense of the word, presents violence in its written form, by use of a plethora of dialects, slangs and different languages which make the narrative confusing and at times even borderline unintelligible.
Going back to Xanther, her discussion of the Horrorsphere seems to mirror the state of being of the other characters’ worlds: first and foremost, it’s free of taboo, an “anything goes” ordeal (as seen in social media sites like the infamous 4chan or certain corners of reddit, Tumblr, etc.), and given its name, it is a place of horror (the online OED returns an interesting definition of horror in its first result: that of “roughness” or “ruggedness,” both words that could easily go along with the view of life “out on the streets,” as the general public would call it). So what is the significance of suppression vs. release in the context of the world as a whole?
I’ll shift my focus now into a short account to further drive my point home (hopefully). There existed a Japanese horror flash animation in the 90s called “The Red Room,” known for breaking the fourth wall in a chilling fashion. In a brief summary, the story of the animation concerns a high school student who finds a pop up on his computer that reads “Do you like the red room?” As he closes it, he feels a presence behind him, and the next day news arrives that the same student has committed suicide and painted the walls of his room with his blood. The animation then breaks the fourth wall upon ending, actually sending the same pop-up of the story into the viewer’s computer. This animation gained notoriety when a young elementary school girl in Japan, who was a proclaimed fan of the story, committed a homicide in what became known as the Sasebo slashing. The relevance of this lies in where the horror is truly situated. The flash animation only truly becomes terrifying when it infiltrates the real world – when the pop up appears on your own (real) computer screen. Concern is not in regards to what the young elementary school student watched, but in what she did after watching it.
I feel Danielewski might be making the point that virtual or imaginary spaces subdue our definition of horror and violence. Xanther’s brief encounter with the Horrorsphere affects her because she cannot recognize the difference between this and reality because her entire narrative focuses on the interior – which is where the biggest horrors lie. Likewise, in our own real world, reading of Luther is not the same as witnessing it. The horrorsphere exists as a deposit for all horror – and only when it leaks out into real life does it truly damage us. But having a character like Xanther really lets the reader see how equally violent both realms of horror can be. Although it is but a Rainy Day in May, Xanther’s narrative can be disturbing and unsettling, because the imaginative is depicted with vast realism. In this sense, is the horrorsphere really contained, or can it affect us now, beyond the computer screen (think of Jingjing, whose narrative is violent in language)?