16 May 2013

The Fifty Year Sword, by Mark Danielewski


I LOVED House of Leaves, but I can't quite bring myself to read Only Revolutions, because it looks like it's a lot of effort without much pay-off. The Fifty Year Sword seemed promising though - a creepy story, not too difficult. And I will give it credit, it's not - I read it in an hour. But it's also not that great. This is unfortunate, because I think Danielewski has the potential to be a fantastic writer. His prose is strangely magnetic and really sucks you in. And the "effects" he's interested in are sometimes quite effective - particularly the arrangement of words on the page. But other ones seem pretty gratuitous. In this book, for instance, we are told at the beginning that there are five different speakers, and that who is actually talking will be indicated by the color of quotation marks. So for starters, the colors are quite similar. Secondarily, the voices aren't that different. Thirdly, it arguably doesn't really matter, because they seem to all be talking at once and producing something awfully similar to a monologue, so who cares. I find myself wishing he would just write a good story and spend less time with the conceptual stuff, but then again, sometimes the conceptual stuff is kind of neat. The fact that most of this story is only on the left hand side of the page does have some kind of effect in this book. I can't explain it, but it  does generate some sort of mental state in you as you read. The illustrations, unfortunately, are not especially effective, and seem rather shabby, and the red thread that binds that book is just...silly.

Essentially, you have an extremely talented writer relating a pretty stock and cliche tale, and loading it with a bunch of "special effects," very few of which actually add to the story. It's a pity, really. Danielewski seems capable of so much better.

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