Friday, February 1, 2013

The Mad Beauty of Danielewski

I used to work with a fella by the name of Jeff Burns.  Jeff and I had a lot in common.  We both had an affinity for cinematic adventures, had the same taste in music, and we both liked to read and write in our free time.  He introduced me to Mark Z. Danielewski while he was reading House of Leaves.  If you've never read House of Leaves, I highly recommend it.  I was intrigued by the Inception style of story line in the sense that it's kind of a story within a story with some extras at the end.  Jeff was also telling me that there are supposedly codes embedded in the writing that people 'go crazy' trying to crack.

He had me sold and I went and picked up a copy of House of Leaves at Barnes and Noble shortly after.  It really is a trippy psychological thriller.  There were parts that gave me goosebumps and some that scared me, truly scared me, which has probably only happened to me twice in my life, getting frightened by a book (RL Stine did it to me once when I was a kid.  Damn Goosebumps books!).

House of Leaves isn't for everyone though.  I fell in love with it after reading it the first time (I've read it twice since) and passed it on to my dad, the authority on good books in my eyes.  He just couldn't get into it, even though he and I share and enjoy the same books all the time.

So this year, hoping to get back into another juicy book during the holiday break, I invested in The Fifty Year Sword by Danielewski.  If you've ever read a Danielewski book, you'd know he likes to use the page to add another dimension of madness to the book.  Some pages may only have a few words on them, some have words backward, but only in a small insert in the middle of the page, on other pages, the words get smaller and smaller and smaller.  Here is a look into House of Leaves:

The Fifty Year Sword does the same thing.  Danielewski only used the left page to tell this cryptic tale of a young, recently divorced woman who attends the 50th birthday of her ex's new lover, but rather than endure the birthday girl's torturous company, she sweeps away with the children and becomes audience to a haunting tale told by a hired storyteller to keep the children occupied during the party.  The storyteller, with a mysterious black box at his side, weaves a tale, that seems meant for an older audience, of a dark time in his life when he lusted to kill and searched the world for the perfect weapon to do so.  After tirelessly searching, he came across another man who made swords and each sword rained destruction differently.  This is where the fifty year sword comes into play.  The mysterious weapon-maker is vague with his description of that particular sword, but the storyteller knew it was the sword for him.

The rest, well I'm going to leave that for you to find out.  Danielewski is brilliant with imagery and a poetic way of painting a picture.  With The Fifty Year Sword, he has some help from the stitched pictures sewn into the book (not literally), some elegant, others crude and dark, all fitting.  The book isn't the easiest of reads as, in Mr. Danielewski's usual form, the story line itself if 'cryptic' and can be difficult to decipher at times, at least for me it was, warranting an second read through, sometimes a third.  But with all that set aside, it's a fast read, given the fact the the story is only told on the left page of the book and the pages aren't filled with words due to the spacing and indentations.  It only took me about a day to read, thanks to the interruptions of motherhood.  If I had been uninterrupted, I bet I could have pounded it out in about three hours.

Also, not that I've checked to see if it's available (some authors are worthy of space on my actual, real life bookshelf), I do not recommend reading anything by Danielewski in eBook form.  I don't know if they're offered on Kindle or Nook, but even if they are, you need to get the actual book to sink yourself into the story completely!

Here is a look at the book.  The orange is the book sleeve that, as you can see, has raised bumps on it, Braille-esque, but there is no rhyme or reason to the scatter of dots.  When you peel back the sleeve, the hard binding is covered in a tangled mess of red string blossoms, which complements the stitched illustrations in the pages of the book.

Happy reading,

- Jess

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