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.]