Nothing Like A Scary Story To Ring In The New Year – The Fifty Year Sword

The Fifty Year Sword
Mark Danielewski
Pantheon
October 16, 2012
288 Pages

Getting back into the swing of things, in life, as well as both reading and writing, I decided to start with a short book.  And why not scare the crap outta myself while I do it, right?

The 288 page count is a bit deceptive.  Much of the book is blank pages (the right-hand page is either blank, or covered with some type of artwork) and what isn’t blank is covered in only a small amount of text.  In many places, the typography is scattered, with various levels of indentation.

From a design standpoint, I loved it.  There’s color everywhere and the mix of illustration and text adds a lot of great layering to the story.  I spent probably twice as much time looking at the art as I did reading the story.

But I don’t think this is a bad thing.

Using five different colored sets of quotation marks, the narrator of the story changes every few lines (on occasion, every word) and this starts off as a bit confusing.  Do I read each colored quotation mark in a row? Do I just read it straight through?  I wondered.

Yes, you read it straight through.  There is no discernible pattern when you attempt to read all the red quote marks, or all the golden ones.

So what is the whole thing about?  Danielewski tells the story of Chintana, a woman on the rebound after a recent divorce.  She begrudgingly attends a party being thrown for the woman who her husband cheated with, a real bitch named Belinda Kite.

But that part isn’t important, really.

The majority of the story is about a man and five orphans.  This strange man, referred to only as the Story Teller, spins a tale of violence and terror with remarkable detail.  Chintana knows she should spare the orphans from having to hear about all the strange and gruesome details, but… she finds herself transfixed.

In the story, the Story Teller travels many miles, though magical, fairy-tale-like terrains in order to find a weapon to avenge an unknown and unnamed grudge.  The tale reeks of madness, evil, and darkness… At least until the Story Teller lets the orphans open the black box he brought with him…

What’s in the box?  Well… you should read the book to find out!  It’ll take all of two hours (TOPS) and is definitely up there with House of Leaves for me.  I rarely feel any tangible kind of fear, or terror, while reading, but House of Leaves and The Fifty Year Sword both leave me with the same kind of general malaise…

There’s something about the way Danielewski plays with words that make the stories seem real and believable, despite their fantastical elements.  The Fifty Year Sword is an excellent ghost story… and sometimes, that’s all you need to start the year off right.

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