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Book review: 'The Familiar, Volume 4: Hades' is unlike any other novel

Posted February 11

"THE FAMILIAR, VOLUME 4: Hades," by Mark Z. Danielewski, Random House, $26.95, 880 pages (f)

“The Familiar, Volume 4: Hades” is, to say the least, unlike any novel most readers will have read before. The author, Mark Z. Danielewski, is striving for something beyond a novel in his Familiar series.

Danielewski has plans for 22 more books after "Volume 4." Each book represents a chapter in the overall story, which is about 12-year-old Xanther Ibrahim, a girl with epilepsy who went out one day to get a dog and ended up with a cat. This volume somewhat focuses on her family's need to move to New York and how that affects everyone involved.

The cat seems to have mystical qualities that are more than a little beneficial to Xanther. Xanther's mother, Astair, is a therapist with patients more bizarre than the novel itself, and her adoptive father, Anwar, is a black Egyptian-American computer programmer. The main plot is about how they are trying to cope with their daughter’s seizures and her growing dependence on the furry, white cat.

There are a myriad of characters: Jingjing, a drug addict from Singapore, who is a believer in the charms he clutches while boarding a plane for Los Angeles; Cas and Bobby from Texas, who have visions of Xanther using a magical orb that allows them to see clips from the past; and Shnorkh, an Indian cab driver, who is impatient with everyone. These strangers all seem to be pulled toward Xanther and her cat. Each volume in the series ends with a seemingly unrelated chapter about an animal: “Volume 4” has Bendyl the Boar.

The way the story is told detracts from the main theme. Danielewski uses a multi-layered typographical variation or page layout, and many sophisticated readers may enjoy the eclectic format, but for others it may prove challenging. Some chapters are done in a meme-style format, while others are close to programming language. There are also some artistic parts where the text flows in patterns that force readers to turn the book around 360 degrees to read.

The result is a book and a series that readers will either love or hate — there likely is no middle ground.

The book contains many instances of strong profanity. There are only vague references to any sexual situations, and references to violence are nongraphic.

Kent Larson is originally from Phoenix, Arizona. He loves family, writing, reading, music and movies. He's been teaching English forever and still loves it. Find him at linkedin.com/in/MisterLarson.

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