The Familiar Volume 4: Hades by Mark Z. Danielewski

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“Just one cage finding another. Maybe wider. Maybe bigger. Still cage. All of it. With horizons for bars.”

The Familiar, Volume 4 takes place between August and September 2014. All of the different characters in The Familiar are really starting to come together. Luther and Ozgur see each other at the gun range. Jingjing and Xanther just barely miss each other at the airport. Luther sells drugs to Jingjing.

There are also thematic overlaps between the characters. Luther suddenly knows a word he shouldn’t know, like Xanther suddenly knowing French. Xanther is the star of a viral video and gets unwanted fame. Cas also gets unwanted fame in her own circle. Cas spends some time in little Switzerland and Xanther’s friend says he wants to go to Switzerland. After the events of Volume 3, the first few chapters imply Xanther is dead. Also, Cas almost gets blown up.

Now that she’s in eighth grade, things seem to be looking up for Xanther since the bully she had the most trouble with is now in high school. Shnorhk, the least interesting character from the first three volumes, finally becomes interesting as we learn that he has been avoiding dealing with the loss of his daughter.

Ozgur is having relationship troubles. Anwar gets a job offer in New York. Luther, who’s had a voracious sexual appetite up until now, is now having impotence issues. Astair is haunted by the lion that almost killed Xanther. Jingjing comes to Los Angeles with his aunt, although the long plane ride is particularly difficult for him due to his drug withdrawls.

We learn Bobby and Cas are also known as Sam and Hailey (which were the names of the main characters from another Danielewski novel, Only Revolutions.)

Cats continue to be a theme. Shnorhk’s wife adopts a cat. Ozgur noticies a Bast pendant he gave someone has been regifted. Cat emoticons are hidden in the code Mefisto left Anwar. Luther sees a cat appear on the firing range.

In addition to the ubiquitous cats, cages was another theme I noticed in Volume 4. For example, Anwar wonders if thoughts can have hinges and suddenly swing open like a cage. Also, he and Xanther watch a show about cages. I liked the part where Anwar’s friend told him “The hangover grants us the pleasure of experiencing a return to health.”

There’s a scene I particularly liked in which Xanther and Anwar are backstage at The Met. Although they appear ethereal while performing, the second the audience isn’t watching, the ballerinas drop their facade. If they get injured on stage, they don’t let on until they’re backstage. We see sweat pouring from them, smell their body odor, and hear their profanities. We see how difficult it is for them to make ballet look effortless.

As an aside, I noticed the back cover of the book had a few five star Goodreads reviews for the previous volume. It occurs to me this is a good marketing strategy. Not just the usual strategy of putting good reviews on the cover to encourage people to buy it, but the strategy of including regular people’s reviews to encourage them to leave five star reviews in the hopes of seeing their name on the back cover. (The Familiar also includes pictures of cats people send in, another way to encourage people to buy the book to see if their cat picture made it in to this volume.)

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