A Grain of Universes

house_of_leaves"House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski (Pantheon)

If you don't enjoy dark and disturbing sojourns into the foreboding unknown, then, in its own words, this story is not for you. If, on the other hand, you are willing to be infected and possessed by a book that will reach out and crawl under your skin as it draws you into the emptiness opening before you, then grab your measuring tape and head to the nearest bookstore.

Having generated an online cult following before its publication in 2000, House of Leaves continues to steadily increase in popularity as it is quietly passed around like the hidden location of a secret door to a frightening world. That world exists inside the growing gaps of human relations.

Much like the house it describes, House of Leaves is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It is a film within a book within another book with three narrative voices and enough experimental literary devices to make it as much a visual work of art as it is a written one. It is a technically ambitious endeavor; while the unconventionalities might at first seem showy, there are few places where they fail to support and further the cause of the words they contain. The margins press in on the page, condensing the words as the action moves down a shrinking corridor, or simulate the experience of passing through a series of doorways by allowing only one word per page. These devices are very fitting and help encourage an intimacy with the manuscript, creating juxtaposition to its themes of alienation.

Danielewski explores the slow and silent divisions that sever a person from those around him and can leave one internally alone even when one is physically surrounded by others. The house acts as an analogy for the family, and just as a cold distance stands between the man and woman of the family, so are the rooms of the house suddenly separated by dark, uncanny voids. These cold and anonymous voids grow from the size of a simple household closet to a cavernous space that defies the circumference of the earth. This disturbing novelty quickly turns serious, threatening to absorb all that inhabit it into a faceless vacuum of isolation.

This personified tearing apart of relationships seeps through the pages of the internal story and into the book's next layer, that of Johnny Truant, who acts as our guiding Virgil through this strange version of hell. Truant's sections are filled with rambling, disjointed insights and can at times become obstacles to get past so you can return to world of the expanding house. While he serves a definite purpose, it can be forced. As Truant follows the story of the characters in the house, he involuntarily joins them in their trails as it unearths the voids in his life. It feels as if Danielewski intends for the reader to identify with Truant, as a lone individual reading and experiencing this story, yet Truant's back story is so tragic, and his reactions so extreme, that he would be an unlikely mate for most readers.

House of Leaves envelops its readers, pulling you into its multiple worlds while simultaneously expanding outside of its pages. It is an interesting exploration as well as an entertaining thriller with a steady and relentless build that slowly creeps up your spine with the turning of each page. Read it in the late hours of the night, when everyone and everything in house is silent and still. Find a spot where you think you feel comfortable, turn the pages, and try as hard as you can to tell yourself that it's only a work of fiction. - C. Jefferson Thom

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cj_thom

Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.

Amazing Voyage

I couldn't agree more.

This is a book for the ages.

Approach with extreme caution as it may rewire your soul.

DW

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