cover image The Fifty Year Sword

The Fifty Year Sword

Mark Z. Danielewski. Pantheon, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-307-90772-1

This first American edition of Danielewski%E2%80%99s novella, published in a different form in the Netherlands in 2005, has the theatrical quality of a children%E2%80%99s ghost story, complete with stitched-art illustrations (designed by the author), sweeping themes, and fairy-tale tropes. But the tale told by the Story Teller, hired to entertain the children, is nested in the all-too adult story of Chintana, a seamstress suffering through the aftermath of a painful divorce. The smallest daily rituals%E2%80%94opening a can of %E2%80%9Cbitter tea leaves,%E2%80%9D putting on shoes%E2%80%94require terrific force, and she has visions of inflicting violence. At her twin%E2%80%99s urging, Chintana attends a Halloween party at an East Texas ranch, where she comes face-to-face with the source of her marriage%E2%80%99s destruction and discovers the Story Teller%E2%80%99s thirst for revenge. Danielewski (House of Leaves) knows that typographical landscaping can be a narrative tool. With rare exception, he unfurls his tale down one side of the page in quoted speech of different colors representing five orphans whose obscure connection is hinted at in an author%E2%80%99s note; text is juxtaposed or shares space with illustrations. Tension builds visually; some scenes slows to a sentence per page (a trick the author%E2%80%99s fans will recognize), vertically tearing the white space (readers resistant to textual hijinks may be frustrated). More of a narrative poem than a novella, this would be well suited to an oral reading and may be best thought of as an objet d%E2%80%99art that chillingly holds us accountable for our worst thoughts. Illus. Agent: WME Entertainment. (Oct.)