“The Fifty Year Sword” by Mark Z. Danielewski (2012) – 298 pages
No writer has had more success creating a mind-bending mystique around his books than Mark Z. Danielewski (from here on referred to as Mark Z.). His first book, “House of Leaves”, had an unconventional page layout and style with backwards text, a maze-like story, copious footnotes, etc. It was widely acclaimed, and his next novel “Only Revolutions” also had unusual format features and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction.
By now Mark Z. has a large cult following and there are web sites wholly devoted to discussions of each of his books. “The Fifty Year Sword” was first released in a very limited edition. Then Mark Z. put together well-attended Halloween performances of the novel. Now “The Fifty Year Sword” has been published in quite lavish fashion. What started as a 50-page horror story has been turned into a 298-page novel with ‘stitchings’ by Atelier Z. instead of drawings and lots and lots of blank space and blank high-quality pages.
I don’t know. First of all I was not at all aware of the mystique surrounding it when I read “The Fifty Year Sword”. The ‘stitchings’ did nothing for me; they seemed more like random scribble drawings rather than in any way illustrating or representing the story. The story is OK but nothing special, a Halloween story centering on the sword. The story is not particularly intriguing, certainly not as scary as the famous Edgar Allan Poe horror stories. In the book there is a system of color-coded quotes which was completely lost on me. Couldn’t the author just write “Chintana said” or “Belinda Kite replied”? That would not have been half so precious but a hundred times clearer.
Another characteristic of “The Fifty Year Sword” is the use by Mark Z. of words that will never be found in the dictionary.
“Too many hours, shoomed the Social Worker, gratefully accepatating Chintana’s concoctions.”
In the sentence above, ‘shoomed” seems a good use of a made-up word, but it is questionable that ‘accepatating’ works any better than ‘accepting’. Quite a few of the made up words added nothing to the word they were adapted from.
By now Mark Z. has become an industry, not just a writer. There are speculators who buy copies of his limited editions on eBay in the hopes they will go up in value, and one guy wrote on Amazon that he was disappointed that this new edition of “The Seven Year Sword” was published for wide release. Mark Z. recently won a seven-figure advance for the first 10 books of a planned 27-volume serial novel called at this point “The Familiar”.
I don’t begrudge any writer being financially successful, but somehow it seems that at least for this book, Mark Z. is like the Wizard of Oz, doing it with smoke, mirrors and other gimmicks.