Review: The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: August 21 to 23, 2014
Read Count: 1
Recommended by:
Recommended for: no one, unless you’re really really curious

This is a hard one. While I liked it and found it interesting, I’m not sure anyone else would because this book is the very definition of gimmick and novelty item. Evidence: the packaging (it comes in a wooden box with metal latches, need I say more?). More evidence: there’s interesting needlework on the inside. Even more evidence: the original price and number of books printed (only 1,000). I should hate it for this alone, but I don’t because it’s quirky and sort of cute, like an inside joke.

Mark Danielewski’s books cannot be read on ereaders. Well, you can but you’re missing the point because he purposely makes his books not suitable for machines–how very postmod of him, no? But I would say that that’s because he goes out of his way to make you feel the words while consuming the story and make you an active participant, instead of a passive observer.

Like House of LeavesThe Fifty Year Sword experiments with typography, colors, line breaks, and other empty spaces to tell an urban legend style tale that takes after oral fable traditions.

The story starts with a mysterious guest, who’s also the unnamed narrator, attending an annual Halloween birthday party, and this year it’s in honor of a woman named Belinda Kite. The unnamed narrator meets another woman in attendance, a sullen looking woman, Chintana. She reveals that she’s going through a divorce and that Belinda Kite is her husband’s mistress, and that if she’d known about the guest of honor, she wouldn’t have come.

The narrator then begins to tell Chintana and all the children gathering around him a story about the gift he brought which is kept in a long black box marked T50YS. He had to travel all across the world from The Valley of Salt through The Forest of Falling Notes through the Mountain of Manyone Paths to meet a Man With No Arms who made swords that could kill impossible things, like ideas, seasons, and whole countries. The narrator spins more tales of his adventures and how he came to retrieve the content in the box, which he reveals at the end of the story to be just a sword hilt.

Belinda Kite doesn’t appreciate the narrator’s tales or that he’s taking up everybody’s time and attention, so she takes the sword hilt and, to prove that the tales are nonsense, she makes slashes with it all across her body. Nothing happens…yet. The sword is called The Fifty Year Sword for a reason, and this year just happens to be Belinda Kite’s 50th birthday.


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