Wednesday, August 08, 2012

House of Leaves

I think the reason I gave "House of Leaves" (705 pages) by Mark Z. Danielewski a read was based on all the bizarre reviews I read about it online. The people who said this novel was a mind fuck weren't kidding. From the jacket of the book:

"Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth - musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies - the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.

Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.

The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story - of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams."

Yeah it's a weird premise to say the least and the structure of the novel is even weirder. When people asked me what the story is about I really have to pause and think hard on a reply. To put it the best I can, it's a thesis written by a blind man named Zampano about a documentary called "The Navidson Record" with an introduction and notes by a man named Johnny Truant. Truant found the collection of Zampano's notes and research after his death and put it all together as best he could and later their combined efforts were found and published. Whew.

"The Navidson Record" is really a fascinating story told from the view of mounted cameras in the Navidson house as well as their own personal logs captured via handheld cameras. Think something akin to "The Blair Witch Project" in book form but far more intriguing. Will Navidson and Karen Green settle down for a quite life in a Virgina neighborhood with their two kids, and Will, being a photojournalist, wants to document the transition. Soon after the move something is amiss as the inside of the house is slightly larger than the outside of the house, an impossibility. After much toil Navidson enlists the help of his brother and a college professor to solve their little "mystery." As the space within the house grows to cavernous proportions, even more help is enlisted by Navidson and his team in the form of three "explorers" who will enter the cavern and try to map and document the impossible addition to Navidson's home. Eventually all hell breaks loose endangering the entire expedition and the family. "The Navidson Record" is at times hilarious, mystifying, and down right terrifying.

Running along with Zampano's account of "The Navidson Record" is the story of Johnny Truant, his comments on what he reads concerning "The Navidson Record" as well as some lengthy additions on what is currently going on in his life. He documents his childhood, his habitual drug use and partying in Los Angeles with his friend as well as several sordid affairs with women he picks up. There's some pretty graphic sexual content in these bits. As "The Navidson Record" descends into madness so too does Truant start to change and apparently lose his mind. This could be the result of Traunt's extreme past, his current forays into sex and drugs, the effects of "The Navidson Receord," or just simply made up. His narrative, by his own admission, isn't very reliable.

Throughout the novel are hundreds of footnotes on sources that Zampano used for his research. Often times Truant commented on these footnotes and in return the editors of the book commented on Truant's footnotes. So at times you can move from the narrative to a footnote within a footnote within a footnote that points you to one of the three appendices at the end. At times I had to use multiple bookmarks to hold my place while I moved to varies different pages within the novel. At one point this is done with a chapter concerning labyrinths that flipping through the novel becomes a quest through a labyrinth of pages just to get back to where the reader left off. Very cleaver.

I hope my summary doesn't put anyone off checking out this novel as it really is engrossing, just hard to put in to words. What exactly is "The House of Leaves?" I'm not sure. A horror story, a thesis, even a love story? Yes and maybe more. It's definitely one of the hardest works I've read in a long time but the payoff was worth it even at its most frustrating moments. At times I laughed, at times I cried, and once I threw the book across the room. Interesting post-modern literature. Or maybe Danielewski was just being cute. Recommended.

"This is not for you."

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