Forget Joyce and Pynchon. Has Danielewski Upped the Ante?

L.A. Times: “Fortunately, like ‘Hopscotch,’ ‘Only Revolutions’ comes with brief user instructions (read eight pages of Sam, then turn it over and read eight pages of Hailey; rinse and repeat). But given that the book consists of 45 of these eight-page sets, with exactly 180 words on each page, the typeface progressively diminishing in size until the parallel narratives meet in the middle, reading it could well require office supplies — in my case, two bookmarks, three sets of Post-its, a dictionary, a ruler, a stapler (don’t ask) and a calculator, along with a bottle of Bordeaux. I pushed all the way through and even found parts of it enjoyable — maybe less like a history of love than advanced Sudoku over Sunday brunch.”

I’ve just started getting into my copy of Only Revolutions, without Vankin’s ancillary stash, and I realize that I’m going to have to read this book several times. Here’s a sample passage from page 101 (Sam’s side): “Calmly I fustigate NURSE BOZARK to react. She doesn’t, filing her toes. fortunately, EXTERNIES race over. Checking for pulse.” But I’m finding the website a bit helpful.


It goes without saying that when an online punkass posts an extravagant claim about a major writer[1], he must be prepared to, in the parlance of 1999, back up his shit, yo.[2] Well, I am here to tell you that I have discovered a man who can write David Foster Wallace under the table, if indeed a comparative summation between writing and drinking can be consummated. A writer who, in fact, can fit quite neatly into Tom LeClair’s prodigious fiction category.

I speak of Mark Z.[3] Danielewski. I am taking about House of Leaves, a novel that is beautiful and playful in scope as it is beautiful and playful in substance. One becomes gleefully lost and bewildered in this book. Lost in the gorgeous labyrinth of footnotes and design (house and style). Bewildered by the ongoing mystery, the series of films and the titular house’s expansive territory.

danielewski.jpgIt is true that Danielewski has ripped off Infinite Jest’s zest for technical arcana, with its attention to mathematics, videotape formats, and taxonomies. But what is particularly funny – indeed an outright conceit — is that while Infinite Jest largely concerns itself with its titular film in its endnotes, Danielewski brings his film (or rather films) to the forefront. Just over the 100 page mark, Infinite Jest is still figuring itself, but House of Leaves is smack dab in the underbrush of a gorgeous flowchart of footnotes: extended across pages in boxes, upside down, in various fonts. One is led on a remarkable adventure. What is the house?[4] And does Danilewski really know what’s going on?[5]

The cross-reference here is laid out so magically that I now see precisely why Wallace needed to write “Host.” Looking at House of Leaves, it’s damn clear that Danilewski was stabbing away at the ambitious footnote design well before Wallace. And if elaborate points of reference along these lines aren’t enough for you, there’s appendices and even an index.[6] This is good for people who have a perfervid history with Maps.

More importantly, while House of Leaves is a stunning academic satire in which Danielewski uses language to tell us that there are some things in life that simply should not be explained by intellectuals (a trait shared by Infinite Jest), Danielewski has more streetcred than Wallace in the form of Johnny Truant, a rough-and-tumble Angeleno who latches onto words and phrases within the text to expound upon his debauchery and a man who unapologetically confesses that he is a monoglot trying to round up academics to translate passages (often sleeping with them).

Amazingly, despite Truant’s recurrent interruptions, Danielewski’s sense of timing works. Just when you’re finding out about various excavations into the house, Truant interrupts. And you wonder if you can continue to pay attention to both Truant and Zampano[7]. Can these two contrapuntal narrators tango with the best of them? Are they the Hope and Crosby of the page? Or perhaps the Keaton and Arbuckle? Or peanut butter and jelly? Well, yes.

I apologize for the general effusive nature and my inability to pinpoint specific examples of this book’s greatness. But I am perhaps too intoxicated right now to think coherently or even concretely.

So we’ll leave it at this for the time being: Joe Bob says check it out.

[1] See “Is DFW Washed Up?”

[2] Pardon these quaint gropes for streetcred. Pardon further the egregious switch from third person to first person that will soon follow. I have abandoned first person plural for the most part, and yet there is part of me which pines for that royal and pretentious phrasing, even though I am clearly beneath it and even though it makes me sound as if I am speaking for some mysterious board of directors.

[3] What does the Z stand for? Will somebody tell me? I am too indolent to Google right now.

[4] And why does The World Outside figure so briefly into it all?

[5] First answer: you get a strong sense. Second answer: Oh, frighteningly so.

[6] Now I know where Ander Monson pilfered the idea from. No wonder he mentioned Danielewski during the Segundo podcast.

[7] Again, laziness prevents me from finding the precise diacritical mark employs upon the O. It was not readily apparent in Microsoft Word when I used Insert/Symbol -– the way a smartass linguistic nut does when he insists on spelling everything O so precisely.