“Look at it, Xanther, breathe it in, never forget: this is what you get when there is no law.” The saga continues, and Xanther’s happy world is cracking at the edges.
Experimentalist-plus-some Danielewski (Into the Forest, 2015, etc.) is one-ninth of the way into his 27-volume opus, The Familiar, and the chickens, if not felines, are beginning to come home to roost. Just barely adolescent, Xanther, the geeky but resourceful center of the piece, is beginning to feel stirrings of a psychic unease that in turn hints at untold powers of mind: when her dad, Anwar, hits a squirrel while out driving, she tries mightily to save it, then subjects herself to a kind of self-interrogation: “the Question Song re-announces itself now with everything about that little creature: how old was it? 432 days. was its mother still alive? No. its father? No. was it a he or a she. She was pregnant.” Xanther is just trying to live a normal life, what passes for normal life for her anyway, in a summer full of—yes—blooming honeysuckle and plenty of pain. That’s no easy task, that normality, in a world full of Islamic State group atrocities, Salvadoran street gangs, and chained alpha felines: “You always keep your hands between your face and the jaws….And you never say no to a lion.” Anwar, meanwhile, is worried sick, for being an eccentric polymath doesn’t pay the bills. Danielewski’s vision of the near-future is dystopian but not Blade Runner so: his world is pretty much like ours, save that not everyone speaks in ways that are easily comprehended, especially the faraway Asian players whose missing cat somehow tumbled into Xanther’s world in the first volume. Such a future requires all sorts of odd typographic conventions, drawings, and Go notations, natch, and Danielewski obliges until the reader’s head spins.
It’s a marvel of postmodern storytelling and decidedly not for every taste. For the moment, suffice it to say that things are looking dicey for Xanther and company.