First encounter[s] with House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski — “And then the nightmares will begin.”

I have been both relentlessly interested and [innately] skeptical of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Since April, I’ve been drawn to this book in the bookstore, picking it up, testing its weight. I’d hug it to my chest as I wandered the store. And then I’d set it back down, telling myself it was too stylistic and experimental for my tastes, that it would only annoy me. I may have a high tolerance for stylistic experimentation, but not for bullshit. But every time I’d return to that bookstore, I’d pick it back up again. Same process.

But I’ve bought it. This being a Read Hard! Book, I finally had an excuse. I went home with it the day I received my paycheck; I believe this is the same book I’ve fondled all these months.

I was still apprehensive. Once I tore off the protective plastic, I randomly flipped through the pages and was welcome with varied typefaces, lines that ran diagonally, footnotes, colored cross-outs, three appendices, an index. Among others. How was I going to read this book? I don’t even understand what it plans to offer me. I don’t even know what it’s supposed to be.

I read the introduction by some guy named Johnny Truant, and intro that tells of this story’s origins: it’s the fragmented life’s work of a now-dead graphomaniac named Zampanò, a manuscript found in the deceased’s apartment. This intro by Truant also held several warnings to the reader, among them:

. . . you’ll watch yourself dismantle every assurance you ever lived by. You’ll stand aside as a great complexity intrudes, tearing apart, piece by piece, all of your carefully conceived denials, whether deliberate or unconscious. And then for better or for worse you’ll turn, unable to resist, though try to resist you will, fighting with everything you’ve got not to face the thing you most dread, what is now, what will be, what has always come before, the creature you truly are, the creature we all are, buried in the nameless black of a name.

And then the nightmares will begin.

Okay. The thing is, this is only page xxiii of this book and, as with Johnny Truant, I had slowly began to feel its heaviness, sensed something horrifying in its proportions, it’s silence, its stillness. In other words, I was seriously creeped out. So much so that a chunk of me was already screaming, “Good gawd, this is all real! And you can’t look away!” I actually spent minutes having an argument with myself, re the book’s veracity. It’s fiction, okay? Of course it’s fiction.

Why do I keep questioning its fiction-ness? Why do I periodically insist that this couldn’t be anything but? Of course it’s fiction.

It’s the form, of course, how this thing is initially presented. Johnny Truant as our guide into Zampanò’s world. Zampanò leading us through the supposedly non-hoax The Navidson Record. Zampanò’s use of form: this is a dissertation, albeit none of the sources, as far as I know, indicate that Zampanò has an intimate knowledge of the events within The Navidson Record. And there are footnotes. In SashaLand, footnotes wield supreme authority. Footnotes mean real.

The question, basically, is not whether the book The House of Leaves is real, or whether Johnny Truant is. I know this is a book written by one Mark Z. Danielewski, and I know Johnny Truant is a character in that book. [What’s exponentially awesome about this book is that there are virtually no traces of Danielewski—not his voice, not his authorial hand, nada.]

The debate is in the book’s locus: On one level, is the house on Ash Lane Tree real? Were there really Navidson’s? On another level, is Zampanò’s text and narrative real? That is, is it a fact within this novel’s mythos? [For example, or a poor analogy: The little mermaid did turn into sea foam, and yet there’s a tiny whisper telling us Alice simply fully dreamed Wonderland.] But, of course, even Johnny Truant points out mistakes and inconsistencies, and a few times, testimonies from people who knew Zampanò that it’s all fictive narrative. But still, but still!

Ah, the questions. This is what happens when a book takes itself seriously, and a reader over-intellectualizes the bejeebies out of it. [Therefore, be warned: This week is officially House of Leaves week.]

14 thoughts on “First encounter[s] with House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski — “And then the nightmares will begin.”

  1. This book scared the crap out of me. I hemmed and hawed about even finishing it and spent almost a year reading the first50 pages. I read the last 350 or so in two days. Probably because I was scared.

  2. I haven’t been able to approach this book at all, simply because of the bullshit issue you mention. I am turned off by a book that has the writing going every which way, and the need to hold it up to a mirror and all that jazz to read it. That kind of stuff drives me bonkers, as I find it is constantly pulling me out of the story. I like to forget I’m reading a book when I’m reading, and this would never let me do so. I know people love this book, but I think I’d fall into the camp where it would just bug the crap out of me…

  3. Oooo, so intriguing…! I picked this as one of my two choices for my online book group’s 2011 reading list. I’m really excited about it. I’ll be curious to read more of your thoughts on it.

  4. Oh my gosh, House of Leaves. I tried reading it last year, and just couldn’t do it. The story CREEPED me out too (but gosh, it was a good sort of ‘creeped out’). I once made the mistake of reading it at night when I was home alone. I couldn’t leave my bed. And I did the same thing – tell myself that the book was fiction, that I was silly to think otherwise, that monsters, even if they were real, couldn’t possibly live under my bed because there is nothing but boxes and and boxes of books and clothes there.

    Anyway, I hope the book doesn’t disappoint. :)

  5. I am creeped out just reading your thoughts so far. I think I will skip this week on your blog, or just thoughts on this book in general. I can’t deal with creepy. I know, it is pathetic, but unfortunately true.

  6. Yes! As Sarah mentioned, she chose this for our October 2011 read, and now I’m psyched! I hear what you’re saying about bullshit but I have to admit I love stuff like that – weird experiments with the text, nestled narratives that play on the reader’s perception of what’s real, all of it. I’m betting I’ll quite enjoy this one.

  7. @ Greg — OMG YES HI-FIVE. It is a mad, delicious mindfuck, isn’t it? I feel ridiculously happy that I read it, haha.

    @ Lu, @ Steph — I completely understand the iffy-ness with the whole style and structure of this book. I hate gimmick, and I hate feeling like the author is sniggering at me from somewhere. But I felt that this was earnest, that there was a point to all the madness. Yes, it got incredibly annoying several times — many times, I was virtually screaming at the book, HOW DO I READ YOU? But now that I’ve finished it, and now that I’ve been exploring what I could about it, I really do think that this is one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read. And not just because of the headaches it gave me.

    @ Sarah, @ Emily — I’m really looking forward to your The Wolves reads next year! I’ll try to tag along with some of them, even in an unofficial capacity. :) And, yes, I’ll be stalking your blogs like crazy when it’s time for you guys to discuss Danielewski. :) [Oh, October’s so far away!] Really keeping my fingers crossed here, hoping you guys will love this.

    @ Iris, @ Jennifer — Yes, it is very very very scary. I tried to rationalize it, too, haha, after the fact. But goodness, it was a delicious horror. I tried to not read it at night, mind you. But it had a hold on me, a very firm one: Basically, well, I couldn’t stop.

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