Book Review: The Fifty Year Sword, by Mark Z. Danielewski
Title: The Fifty Year Sword
Author: Mark Z. Danielewski
Publisher: Pantheon, First American Edition October 2012
Length: 288 pages
Price: $26 US/ $31 CAN
Since her divorce, Chintana’s life has been a constant struggle against the sucking grip of deep depression. Everything she does takes a great effort, and she muddles through her days by sheer force of will. Every reminder of the pain and abandonment she has suffered leaves her a little more cold, a little more bitter, adding to her desire to lash out and find peace in the sweet release of violence. But upon acceptance of a rare invitation, Chintana finds she is not alone in her hurts. When five innocent orphans are threatened by a mysterious story teller bearing a soul blacker than night and a sword unseen, Chintana finds redemption in a word.
The Fifty Year Sword is Mark Z. Danielewski’s third novel. Previously published in a limited release in the Netherlands in 2005, it has just seen its first American publication October 16th of 2012, thanks to popular demand by fans anxious to get their own hands on a copy. Other works include Danielewski’s debut novel, House of Leaves, companion book The Whalestoe Letters, and the sweeping tale of the perennial teenager, Only Revolutions.
Danielewski has a true passion for the power of words, and a keen awareness of the effects of audio and visual cues. Each of his books is uniquely formatted to give the story it contains the greatest possible effect on readers. For some, this turns the works into obsessions rather than simple stories. From the size of the cover to the color of the stitching, from the way words are oriented on each page to the color and size of the font, Danielewski uses every conceivable means possible to immerse readers in his works.
The Fifty Year Sword is Chintana’s story, as told by the five orphans present that cold and stormy night in East Texas. Five voices, stitching together to create one tapestry, telling a tale of love, abandonment, pain, hatred, revenge, and redemption. From the needle-shot dust jacket to the way the words spill down each page with the suggestion of fingers walking across a piano keyboard, The Fifty Year Sword is a work of art. The subtlety of the stitching adds stunning depth to an already moving story more typical illustrations would simply be too bold to pull off; we feel the vast, barren Salt Valley, the Forest of Falling Notes crowds us, and we see our path of footprints trailing through the trees.
The Fifty Year Sword is a haunting and beautiful tale that tugs at the heartstrings, especially if you’ve ever suffered a huge emotional loss. In previous books, Danielewski has detailed his pains and his search for meaning, his exploration of different religions and belief systems and all the ways we humans try to mend ourselves. Here, he tells us how he has stitched himself together using the one common thread all religions share.
I would highly recommend The Fifty Year Sword to anyone who found deeper meaning in any of Danielewski’s previous works, and to anyone who hasn’t read them yet but is open to seeing meaning hidden in what may be simply flourish to others. I also suggest reading it multiple times in a row, which isn’t as time-consuming as it sounds. I read it three times in two days. With each consecutive read, the depth comes through more strongly, and only adds greater emotion to each page.