Statement

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.

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10 Comments

  1. I read House of Leaves several years ago and was blown away…but then second-guessed myself when no one else was blown away. I couldn’t decide — were the charts and boxes within boxes & words within words amazing…or were they just…trying too hard? I haven’t re-read HOL since, but I’m planning to do so before his LA readings.

    After coming back from a long vacation, I see that I missed the “DFW is over” post. I need to digest it, and this Danielweski post in that context before I can decide if I agree with you or not.

    Either way, I’m pleased that you are in the same state I was after reading HOL — unable to pinpoint why the book was so intriguing, yet unable to shake the feeling that I needed to. I will look forward to future posts as you come down off the HOL high.

  2. Yeah, HoL is a great book but where have you been – it’s was released, what, 2-3 years ago. His 2nd, Only Revolutions is out soon. Joy! :-)

  3. I used HoL to warm up for Infinite Jest. I should have done it the other way around. I’m pretty sure that folks on the San Diego trolley thought me insane when they saw me turning that huge brick of a book to the side and upside down to read it.

  4. I too am a fan of the book. Love the index, he even indexes words like “the”. Insanity at its best, and another level of the labyrinth.

  5. I held of reading it for a while, afraid that it was just a bit much and all just goofy layout, but was very pleasantly suprised by how good the book was. The layout oddities worked really well at pacing the book and made the scary parts actually scary–they caused me to speed up and slow down at certain moments in reading–the book had total control over how I read it. Very effective. Also it was nice that the footnotes work out such, that even when they go on for a few pages, you don’t have to turn back to where you were and try to remember–they fit right in.

    Have you started in on trying to figure out every acrostic, anagram, word puzzle and check mark yet?

  6. I loved House of Leaves! But I’ve never read DFW — Infinite Jest is in my stack and I was set to tackle it soon, but now it sounds like it’ll be a disappointment!??!

  7. Isabella: No, no, NOT AT ALL! Infinite Jest is a FANTASTIC book. I’m just saying that House of Leaves knocked my socks off more than IJ did back in the day. This is not to suggest that DFW isn’t worth your time. See The Girl With Curious Hair, his great essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and, of course, the mammoth Infinite Jest!

  8. I think it is interesting what happens to a book after you read it. When I finished House of Leaves, I was at a WOW LEVEL 9, but over time have cooled to maybe an 8. On the other hand, after finishing IJ at WOW LEVEL 8, it has grown to a 10.

    What is it that makes a book seem fantasitc at the time you are reading it, but later loses some of its luster–not even that after you finish you don’t think it was good, but that its sparkle evaporates. I’ve read books and really liked them–liked them on a thought they were great scale–, then forgotten that I read them. This happened with Smila’s Sense of Snow. I thought that book was the jam as I read it, then a few days after reading it couldn’t tell someone what I had been reading.

  9. I’m a little reluctant to make this recommendation, because it’s only the first half of the story and it’s entirely possible that the whole thing will dissolve into a cloud of wankery, but if you liked HoL as much as you obviously do (the most obvious indication of a die-hard convert being that you’ve colored ‘house’ blue whenever it appears in your post) then you might want to check out Hal Duncan’s Vellum, which reads like a cross between HoL and Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. As in HoL, there’s a hell of a lot of playing with narrative levels, fonts, and non-linear storytelling, to which Duncan adds some truly cool variants on myths both familiar and unfamiliar.

    Sad to say, Danielewski’s follow-up to HoL, Only Revolutions, isn’t quite up to snuff. It’s a very ambitious book, and I admired what Danielewski was trying to do with it, but ultimately he just wasn’t a good enough writer to make it work (I reviewed the book for IROSF – you can find the review here but you’ll have to register an account to read it).

  10. Holy hell, are you all joking? That book is a piece of drippled crap.

    More charitably: there is an art to this sort of thing, and while DFW and Borges and Calvino have it, Danielewski most certainly does not. Sorry.

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