Fabulist and avant-gardist Danielewski (House of Leaves, 2000, etc.) embarks upon a long-promised 27-volume fantasia with this sprawling, continent-hopping potpourri.
On its face, this first installment is the story of a girl. And rain. And a “ridiculous dog bed.” And a cat. And then the whole of human civilization and of the human propensity to do wrong while struggling to do right. The storyline is scarcely describable. Think of it this way: what if a prepubescent Leopold Bloom had fallen down a rabbit hole and wound up in Southeast Asia with a Pomona street gang in tow? Young Xanther, bespectacled, mouth full of metal braces, acne-spattered and left-handed, epileptic, self-doubting and sometimes self-hating, is a mess, just as every 12-year-old is a mess. She is also, her doctor assures her, something more: “If I could grant you one certainty, Xanther, one which you could hold on to without dissolving under all your scrutiny, let it just be how remarkable a young girl you are.” So she is: there’s scarcely a thing in this world she’s not interested in and has theories about, spurred on by a brilliantly eccentric dad who's always talking about engines and the thought of Hermagoras of Temnos, “whoever he was, a rhetor, whatever a rhetor is.” So what does she have to do with an Armenian cabbie, a pidgin-speaking Singaporean, and a Chicano street gang? Ah, that’s the question, one that the reader will be asking hundreds of pages on, tantalized by the glimmerings of answers that peek through rainy calligrams and sentences endlessly nested like so much computer code. Danielewski’s efforts at street-tough dialect verge into parody (“Like this be plastic shit. All scratched up and chipped”), but most everything about this vast, elusive, sometimes even illusory narrative shouts tour de force. Strangely, it works, though not without studied effort on the reader’s part.
And as for all the loose ends? No worries—there are 26 volumes to come in which to tie them up.