Waxing Press

Book Review: The Familiar, Volume 5: Redwood by Mark Z. Danielewski

book reviews, tastemakingIan Wissman

When Persephone devoured the six seeds of the pomegranate, she banished herself to six months in the realm of Hades, and consequently the earth to six months of winter (& fall). The price we pay for the things we take may not come to bear until it’s too late to undo. In The Familiar series, up to this point, we’ve tracked nine stories that from the very outset promised us deep, mysterious connexion, despite how strange and disparate the characters in them seemed: a gang leader and his crew in LA, an Armenian cab driver, a mother and husband and their three children, a Singaporean struggling-to-recover addict and the mysterious old healer woman who seems to need him as much as he needs her, a Turkish homicide detective, a fugitive duo in possession of a technology powerful enough to cause paradigm shift in humanity, and an existential cartel hitman in Mexico.

As the story has unfolded across these five books, we’ve made literal and glancing connexions. Teased with them across arcs. Characters bump into each other like celestial bodies in near-miss events—the direct impact would bear steeper significance, but the gravitational pull of their interactions (large and small) pull and drag the world around them. Reverberations cut across the globe like the tidal locking of the Earth and the Moon—each one’s gravity balancing the other’s trajectory. And at the center of the novel’s gravity are Xanther and the cat she saved (or the cat that chose her to save it[?]): the true story at the heart of the series, because it seems the cat is what kicks off these connexions and significances. The cat cast as the force of gravitational matter. Along the way, Mark Z. Danielewski has buttressed these books with an outpouring of world and character, myth and meaning, motif and symbolism, plot and strife. Each volume meted out with the grace of a slowly unfurling tapestry telling an age-old tale. In book five, we’re delighted with a grand-scale conclusion to what has been hyped as the “Season One Finale.”

In The Familiar, Volume Five: Redwood, MZD delivers one of the most direct, action-thrust entries so far in the living novel. Spanning the course of less than 24 hours, the first half of the book adopts the Rashomon technique of story-telling, letting several overlapping characters fill in the hazy spots of the surreal and supernatural events unfurling. Meanwhile, the second half bears ripe rewards for readers searching for answers, which are buried in action. Where some of the book’s action takes the whole volume to unwind, other plot lines spiral and twirl, unveiling some of the darker secrets plaguing readers to this point. Secrets, though, each like a seed of the pomegranate, come with the burden of their yet-known price, doling out further unfurling mysteries ripe with the garnet juices dribbling down your chin. The pomegranate never sates, and where we pluck the kernels from its sweet chambers, a seemingly endless supply of pips comes unburied in the devouring.

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What does all this mean about Redwood? It is full of action. Full of answers to questions simmering these past 2.5 years since One Rainy Day in May saw the sun. But it’s now the questions of what those answers mean that we must wait to discover in book six. As answers spring forth, new questions and potential plot lines arise while much-anticipated interactions create new conflicts. And the way this book destroys certain barriers and formal elements in the previous four tomes makes clear that MZD has many more tricks up his sleeves. While Redwood may lack some of the more layered meanings and multifaceted applications of ancient mythology that The Familiar, Volume Four: Hades employs, it has its wealth of jaw-dropping moments and mind-blowing revelations. Revelations in all senses of its meaning. Now I pay my time abiding the seeds I’ve eaten while I wait for Season Two to keep fucking me up.