In Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May, I was introduced to a wild, scattered, multifaceted universe from the mind of Mark Z Danielewski, a story in which a girl finds a unique, powerful, mysterious (dangerous?) cat. Many other characters entered into the mix from across the globe and while I may not have known exactly what was going on, the experience was still interesting, exciting, colorful, and contained the necessary beats to keep me moving forward, anxious to know what came next. There was enough heart in certain characters to get me invested in them and their stories. Amazingly, for what at times was a difficult read, it ended with me thinking that, “Yes, I’d read another one of these.”
With Volume 2: Into the Forest, things got more trippy, more spooky, more uncertain, more untethered, and yet also more tied together. Things were starting to make more sense. I was already familiar with the format, the main characters, and the fact that to understand the book better, the best plan was not to get too hung up on the mysteries and just keep moving forward, trusting that Danielewski would reveal things when the time was right. I learned more about the dangers (and powers) of curious electronic(?) Orbs that could search time and space and were inherently unpredictable. I saw dark and frightening stones cover people’s eyes, and disembodied eyes floating out of the page towards me from out of a cold and sinister forest. I realized that this story was going to be a lot of things, but safe was not one of them. And when it ended, I felt like I was awakening from a very exhilarating (and terrifying) nightmare… yet I was hungry for more.
In Volume 3: Honeysuckle & Pain, on one hand, the pace smoothened out a bit. Where Volumes 1 and 2 were rip-roaring with frequent chaotic and puzzling events, Volume 3 slowed down. It took its time giving me more depth and history into the characters with whom I was now very familiar. Knowing well the tone and voice of each person, I was able to roll through the narrative relatively easily and enjoy seeing the plot unfold without the literary-acrobatics of figuring out the format, because I was already comfortable with it.
On the other hand, Volume 3 got stranger than ever, and scarier than ever, pulling the curtain back slightly further to give the reader a glimpse into Xanther’s potential, importance, and power (although none of these have yet been fully realized in her or divulged to us). Whatever is going on, she is in a precarious, volatile, highly dangerous situation (and nope, I don’t even fully understand what that situation is). Along with that, I’m not sure if even the ancient cat will be able to protect her from it (or if he himself is in fact a part of the danger, despite their apparent bond). The spookiness of Volume 2 got ripped open wider and, man, was it exhilarating. The complexity of the story's vastness also spun out further, but links are beginning to be made.
What I must stress about this series is that while it is a challenge, it is also perhaps one of the most rewarding reading experiences I’ve ever had. It is worth the effort. It is worth the digging into the text and looking for clues and patterns between the three Volumes and discussing theories with other readers online. And Danielewski knows this with complete clarity. The series is not just difficult for the sake of difficulty, or complex for the sake of highbrow artsy overindulgence. Instead, it is an experience built with great intention and needs to be given careful attention. But also, it's, uh, fun to read. It goes against the fast-paced information overload of our current media culture and forces the reader to slow down, to take in the prose, to make notes and underline passages and refer back to the previous volumes, to pay close heed, to study. And for those who take the time and do the work, Danielewski is handing out literary parcels of gold with each new book.
Volume 3 only confirmed this fact. Things are coming together. Characters are crossing paths. Something enormous is being built, and yes, it’s still full of mystery, but there are more clues all the time, and they’re fantastically exciting. There were several chill-inducing revelations. Never have I had a reading experience that was so well balanced between poetic, philosophic beauty and tripping-balls bizarre.
These books are works of art, and they’re only getting better. Join the community surrounding this series, and scratch your head with the rest of us while slapping yourself for not picking it up sooner. You have not had a reading experience like this before. Sure, it’s daunting, but do you know what the most daunting part of it is? The fact that Volume 4: Hades isn’t coming out sooner.