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The Fifty Year Swordby Mark Z. Danielewski
Synopses & Reviews
One Halloween night, at a party held at an East Texas ranch house, a local seamstress named Chintana finds herself thrown into the role of chaperone for five rambunctious orphans. Not surprisingly, the children's energies prove barely containable, even with promises of cake and a storyteller.
The storyteller, however, is not what anyone expects.
Looming and cloaked in dark, he entertains the orphans with a tale twisted out of vengeance and violence. He does not come empty-handed, either. At their feet he sets a long, narrow box sealed with five latches.
"I am a bad man with a very black heart," he warns them. "And it was only that badness and blackness which forced me to seek out what I have carried now for many years and brought this night for you."
An unsettling thing to say to anyone, especially to children. But as Chintana soon discovers, this is just the beginning. Her concerns only mount as the storyteller offers more and more menacing details about what consequences lie hidden within that long, narrow box.
To make matters worse, the orphans, one by one, lean forward and lift the latches...
"This first American edition of Danielewski's novella, published in a different form in the Netherlands in 2005, has the theatrical quality of a children's 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 — opening a can of 'bitter tea leaves,' putting on shoes — require terrific force, and she has visions of inflicting violence. At her twin's urging, Chintana attends a Halloween party at an East Texas ranch, where she comes face-to-face with the source of her marriage's destruction and discovers the Story Teller's 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's note; text is juxtaposed or shares space with illustrations. Tension builds visually; some scenes slows to a sentence per page (a trick the author's 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'art that chillingly holds us accountable for our worst thoughts. Illus. Agent: WME Entertainment. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In this story set in East Texas, a local seamstress named Chintana finds herself responsible for five orphans who are not only captivated by a storyteller's tale of vengeance but by the long black box he sets before them. As midnight approaches, the box is opened, a fateful dare is made, and the children as well as Chintana come face to face with the consequences of a malice retold and now foretold.
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.
About the Author
Mark Z. Danielewski was born in New York City and lives in Los Angeles. He is the author of House of Leaves, Only Revolutions and The Whalestoe Letters.
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