THE FAMILIAR VOL 1, by Mark Danielewski.

Math warning! Then a slight review!

I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. It’s really 3.7564536 stars, an irrational number that I’ve rounded for your benefit. Remember an irrational number is a number with a decimal that never ends and never repeats. Or, a simpler way, perhaps, of remembering it, is that the number cannot be written as a fraction like rational numbers (2/3 is rational, so is -4 because that can be expressed at -4/1.). e, pi, square root of 2 are examples of irrational numbers. The real numbers are made up of both rational and irrational numbers. Despite our using rational numbers almost exclusively in our everyday math lives (yes, you do use them, I hear you snickering in the back row), the irrational numbers are dense in the real number system. What does that mean? Well, let’s imagine a real number line stretching from one corner of the universe to the other, with it conveniently wrapping around the earth once or twice, and I gave every person who ever lived a dart. Before perishing everyone gets a chance to throw the dart at the number line, which is comprised of both rational numbers (again, 2, 1, 0, -3, 2/3 etc) and irrational numbers. The probability that anyone would hit a rational number on that number line is 0. If you’re still with me, yeah 0. No tricks like the dart misses or bounces off like when you think you hit a bullseye but only hit the stupid metal circle enclosing the bullseye. Probability of 0, no statistical chance of hitting a rational number. Because…in the real number system there are no consecutive rational numbers, which implies that there are infinite irrationals between any two rationals, so that number line would essentially be those infinite irrationals between those two lonely rationals stuck somewhere at the edges of the (mostly) infinite universe. You know those rationals are out there somewhere, but you’ll never be able to hit them. Find them.

Reading THE FAMILIAR vol 1 is like dealing with and thinking about irrational numbers. You sense them there more than you know they’re there. You know there’s some grand, deeper meaning hidden in the seemingly random stretch of numbers that never repeat, but it’s just beyond your grasp.

House of Leaves is one of my favorite novels ever. Only Revolutions I couldn’t finish and thought the typographical trickery was just that. In THE FAMILIAR it works as there’s a wonderful sense of visual rhythm (as opposed to textual rhythm) within the book that’s genius.

The heart of the book are the Xanther sections. They are well done and compelling (although she’s a little precious and treated as the glass-figurine-little-girl (and the big emotional climax hinges on an everyday creature that made me say really? (and I said it out loud, like twice, in a lumpy space princess accent too))). Some of the other story threads are, frankly, an unreadable mess, but still entertaining.

There is more than enough there to keep me going. I do worry how, if this is to be a 27 volume THING, I can possibly keep up with this ever expanding irrational number.


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