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The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski
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The Fifty Year Sword (original 2005; edition 2012)

by Mark Z. Danielewski

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283None39,292 (3.51)13
Member:devilwrites
Title:The Fifty Year Sword
Authors:Mark Z. Danielewski
Info:Pantheon (2012), Edition: Reprint, Hardcover, 288 pages
Collections:Greg's Library
Rating:****
Tags:mark z. danielewski, poetry, fantasy, read: gaw, read: ssw

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The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski (2005)

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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Really more a concept than an actual story/book, Mark Z. Danielewski's The Fifty Year Sword is a horror story, of sorts. The story is told from the point of view of five children, in one long stream of conscious dialogue, with the only distinction about which child is speaking made through the color of the quotation marks set around each sentence. It almost reads as one large, run-on paragraph, so it would seem that the children almost speak in a collective, each continuing the sentence from the previous speaker. I gave up fairly quickly trying to determine who was speaking and just read through the story as if it were being told from just one person.

The story, as it were, is simple enough (and is really nothing more than a glorified short story drawn out into a 280+ page book). The five children are at a Halloween party when a stranger arrives carrying a long black box. The story the stranger tells is of the Fifty Year Sword, and his journey to acquire it. What follows is a display of the power of the sword, much to the dismay of one of the party goers. And that's it. The story the stranger tells is vaguely atmospheric, but the ending is reasonably predictable given the outcome of the strangers journey and his story.

About the length of the book. As I stated earlier, it's a glorified short story, and all the text in the book is presented on the left-hand page only. If there is some significance to this placement, it went above my head. I'd be willing to bet there aren't more than 40 words per page, and pages with that much text are few and far between. This was released as an ebook as well, and I think that the ebook had animated graphics and music accompanying it, so I think this was meant to be viewed on an ereader as opposed to something actually physically published. The story has also been performed lived, on Halloween, as a shadow show, and I have a feeling this is where the true impact of the story would be felt, but presented in this static, printed format, the story falls short.

I don't think I'd actually recommend this book to anyone except those that enjoy uniquely published works that have physical distinction that sets them apart from other physical books, which is the only reason I'm keeping this in my library. ( )
  tapestry100 | Sep 30, 2013 |
New book from House of Leaves guy sounds crazy!
  AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
Very cool. ( )
  alclay | Mar 31, 2013 |
MZD, if nothing else, is an experimenter as much as he is a storyteller. His first and most famous book, House of Leaves, is a great bulk of a book, a maze within itself, brutally tearing at the art of the novel and our own fears. Only Revolutions, by contrast, is a rotten egg, forcing the reader to spin the book every eight pages for little reward. If you try and crack it open with further analysis, you get only a turgid rotten mass inside. Despite all of its attempts at technical innovation, it has instead become very stale, a cliched love story.

The Fifty Year Sword combines some of the elements which made MZD famous. There are two main quirks in this novella. The first is a set of five different colors of quotation marks, indicating one of five speakers. In the beginning, you may be tempted to splice and connect these interweaving narrative threads - see if they refer to each other, see if they are nested recursions - but as far as I can tell, they best form a narrative flow if you read them consecutively. Only rarely does he stray from linear action.

The second are the illustrations, referring to his favorite habit of combining the visual with the textual. Here, we have a series of knitted illustrations. These are very well-done, and I won't go into too much detail, but they interact easily with the text, as a supplement and as part of the story itself.

The plot concerns five orphans, a story teller, and a fifty-year sword, the nature of which I will not reveal. The story is somewhere between Ginsburg and Edgar Allen Poe. There is exploration, and there is a bit of horror, which again are Danielewski's strengths. Words are cut up and sewn together again. This is a book worthy of the author of House of Leaves, a ghost story for grown-ups.

Somewhere in PoMo-Heaven, Derrida is pleased.

EDIT: Wow, am I one of the few guys who actually liked this? Strange. Sorry if I got anybody's hopes up. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
One of the most impressive things I can say about House of Leaves is that all typography that looks insane if you're randomly flipping through the pages makes perfect sense while you're reading it. But with this one, for me the non-standard typography detracts from the book.

With House of Leaves, the typography echoed the story. As the characters twisted and turned through the labyrinthine hallways, you had to twist and turn your book to keep up with them. As they moved further down a dark hallway, the text got smaller and appeared to move further away. As they hit a spot of action that would normally be filmed in slow motion, you had single words printed per page, so that you had to read in slow motion.
I really expected the typography in this book to add to the story in as similar fashion. Unfortunately, it did not. Each line starts with quotation marks of a different color. The different colors are supposed to reflect different speakers. But the different speakers aren't distinguished in any way. There's no real meaning behind them, and for me they didn't enhance the story at all. In fact, trying to piece together the broken lines and make sense of the punctuation was really distracting.

Additionally, because of the way the book was printed, the many colors on one page meant that even a slight misprint rendered a page blurry and headache inducing.

As a piece of experimental fiction, this book just doesn't stand on it's own. I don't think it ever would have been published had not Danielewski already had success with his previous books.
( )
  Melanti | Mar 30, 2013 |
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"The nationally best-selling author of House of Leaves and Only Revolutions has crafted a powerfully chilling novella--a ghost story for grownup readers. Late one evening at a party at an East Texas ranch house, five orphans gather to hear a story about a quest for a terrible weapon. Before them lies a long black box with five latches. As the owner of the box settles into a curious tale of revenge, the children grow more and more captivated, even as we grow more and more afraid that a new crime may await them all, especially as clocks in Upshur County approach midnight"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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