THE FIFTY YEAR SWORD by Mark Z. Danielewski


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A sometimes arid, sometimes entertaining ghost story for grown-ups by pomo laureate Danielewski (House of Leaves, 2000, etc.). 

Chintana is in a bad mood. A talented seamstress, she’s just been divorced, “forced/to acknowledge,/yet again,/to yet/another insitrusive customer,/her husband Pravat’s surprising/departure.” The odd portmanteau “insitrusive,” apparently a blend of “insistent” and “intrusive,” is emblematic; Danielewski likes nothing better than to make up words, with some coinages better than others. (The world flat-out does not need the verb “reconsiderate.”) The odd hiccup-y breaks and caesuras also attest to Danielewski’s method, which is to break what ought to be prose down into a sort-of-poetry—not terribly good poetry, that, and oddly punctuated, but still inhibiting a reader tempted to skim and speed. Chintana is stuck in East Texas, that grim place of horrors, her time spent in a house that has had more than one spectral guest in the past. Here, as with House of Leaves, Danielewski distinguishes speakers with quotation marks of different colors; even there, the jumble of words, matched by fugitive images, lends itself to a certain confusion, the printed effect of listening too closely to the dialogue of Robert Altman’s Popeye. The story, as it is, has its charms, including the implement of the title, a very dangerous weapon that is powerless to produce a visible wound until its recipient turns 50: “Just as/quickly too he slid behind/me and I/felt a sting between/my shoulder blades/and then a fire and a cold and a sudden/something/seep of hurt.” The spectral events and unspectral revelations that follow are sure not to improve Chintana’s mood. After all, she’s already feeling “desacreated.”

Like House of Leaves, likely destined to become a cult favorite. Harmless fun for those who aren’t fans already.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-90772-1
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2012


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