Danielewski’s Strange Love Letter Thing

The novelist Mark Z. Danielewski posted something on April Fools that floats between labels; it’s a short story and a love letter and a blog post and an epilogue, or maybe a prologue, or an elegy; taken at face value, it’s an article from an academic journal. Turn the first page and it’s a dialogue. A short story. 

What stamped it with a special kinda beauty, whatever it might be, is that it was written specifically for readers of Danielewski’s book series The Familiar, which was canceled (?), or paused (?), in 2016, after its publisher, Pantheon, released the fifth of a projected twenty-seven volumes–trailing off with some measure of closure, plus the gratifyingly overlap (in some cases more like shoulder-grazing) if its nine storylines, but also with questions and cliffhangers galore. 

Danielewski, from a recent YouTube video in which he takes some questions on his current novel, the status of The Familiar, and riffs on the importance of failure in creativity.

Then on Friday, six years later, he posts this dialogue thing, this journal article, this What If…? episode in which two characters from The Familiar have a discussion (except they aren’t quite characters from that novel [though you could argue that maybe they are, since they’re here in a text whose typography, style, and subject matter is *familiar*, deriving from The Familiar, a novel whose boundaries–since it stands unfinished–are what and where, exactly?]). They’re talking about a mysterious package, it’s been sent to a select few people, and the package has “Season Two” inside it (which, in the structure/parlance of the book series, would mean the next five volumes [Danielewski allegedly wrote {sketched? mapped?} the first ten before volume one was even published] {which incidentally, if you’ll forgive a digression, is kinda what Steig Larsson did, the Swedish author of the Millennium Trilogy, (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Girl Who Played with Fire, Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest)–or, more specifically, that’s what Larsson did for what we now call the Millennium “trilogy,” since it was supposed to be ten volumes long before he died, suddenly (and mysteriously, maybe, cuz he had lots of enemies), at the age of fifty, just months before the release of volume one. He just collapsed in his office (hence the “mysterious” part) after climbing something like seven flights of stairs. Felled without warning by a heart attack. His final words, allegedly, “Goddamn it,” sensing his end, “I’m only fifty.” Larsson, projecting that ten-book arc of the Millennium series, wrote the first three volumes to completion, submitted them to his publisher, and then wrote–if I’m remembering correctly–a few chapters of book four. But then he got stalled. Angry with it. So he jumped ahead to writing book five, and apparently got pretty far along, leaving it behind in such a state of near-completion that his life partner, Eva Gabrielsson, was later able to flex it as a kind of bargaining chip when the surviving Larssons, a brother and father from whom Stieg was (allegedly) estranged, claimed that they, as next of kin, were the rightful heirs to his estate, including the gold-status Millennium IP. The Larssons also argued that Gabrielsson, the author’s roommate and partner of thirty years, was not next of kin since she and Stieg had never been formally married and thus, in the eyes of the law, were not “family.” The best they were willing to do for her was offer something like a few million dollars to just walk away. What ended up happening is that the duplicitous duo of Larsson & Larsson did indeed vanish, in a plume of smoke, with the Millennium IP, bestowing the task [nay, the privilege] of its continuation to a writer named David Langercrantz, who did basically a perfectly good job with volumes four and five (in my opinion) before his creative soda went completely flat on book six, The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, whose batshit climax I defy anyone (the author included) to recount in a play-by-play; it’s like the end of Iron Man 3: amphetamines, confetti}.

Gabrielsson & Larsson.



This wonderful thing he posted on April Fool’s Day, this dialogue-story-pitch for Season Two, runs just fifteen pages, it’s maybe ten thousand words, but it’s one of the most enchanting things I’ve read in a while. Not because it stands on its own, necessarily (though you can tell me yourself, if you’re not ‘familiar’ with the series, by reading it HERE), but because it clearly took a few hours on the author’s part. And he’s a busy guy. He’s got a wife and kid, he’s working on another novel full-time, I think he’s involved in some TV work. He seems to always have a short story in the pipeline. 

And yet, for those of us who fell completely under the spell of Familiar, he set aside the time to write this kind of literary promise ring, and then post it outta the blue, with zero explanation…

It’s bittersweet, in the event it’s his way of telling us what could have been but now will not be, but it was also the first bit of new Familiar material in a halfdozen years; the kind of media experience that, had I known it was coming, I’d’ve been wringing my hands about it for months, blogging nonstop, getting in touch with the publicist and asking (begging) for an early copy; then suddenly, on Friday, I’m reading on the couch (I quit my job last week on a whim lol), set the kindle aside, scrolled through Instagram for a minute–and here’s this fuckin gift. Something a very busy and talented person crafted, over however many hours, for a select group of readers, one to which I happen to belong, and one to which he’s demonstrating a kind of playful gratitude (or so it seemed). 

Maybe I’m a sucker for it, but I was moved nearly to tears when I finished it. Then started again. 

This solitary experience of reading, that occupies such a chunk of my head and heart and clock, it suddenly felt like the most collective. 

Thanks, Mark.

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