"review" · comics/graphic novels · recommend

houses

House by Josh Simmons

Fantagraphics Books, 2007.

80 pages, tradepaper.

picked up at the Library after reading Logan @ Rememorandum’s review.

Josh Simmons’ first original graphic novel is a haunting, entirely wordless story about a group of teenagers who discover a mysterious, abandoned mansion in the forest. Their curiosity draws them inside, where both adventure and unexpected tragedy away. ~back cover

I couldn’t help but think about Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (Pantheon, 2000) while reading Josh Simmons’ black/white wordless comic House. I was thinking about the section of the novel where Johnny Truant goes in search of the house and collects a history about it. He comes across an old  journal entry where these two men found a stairway (?) in the midst of the forest. Granted, it wasn’t a mansion, but the residual chills are felt just the same. This place was unnatural and the house threatened to swallow its occupants whole. House is familiar.

Simmons’ House begins as more of a casual teen-aged adventure. A harmless lark to explore a decrepit old manse in the middle of no where. Large panels and more white than black ink hardly create anxiety. But as the panels decrease in size and increase in number, and the black ink literally swallows the images, tension/suspense is produced. It incredibly difficult to see the scratched illustrations as the end nears and by then you are somewhat grateful. There are some disturbing images.

From the two page vista of the opening pages, the establishing shots, we’ve been drawn into the depths of the house and into the oppressive dark succession of tiny frames. Still, the beginning isn’t without discomfort. Who is the young man, the first character to whom we are introduced? Does he know the girls sitting outside the mansion? Was this an arranged meeting? They have headlamps and packs, but I suppose it could be weirder than a pre-arranged meet. There is some ambiguity that may frustrate some and excite others.

We enter the mansion and the dark-haired, darkly-dressed girl is fairly quickly distanced (other than visually) from the other two who couple up after a swim in the sunken town they come across. Yes, I said a sink hole filled with water. Yes, comic book characters can hold their breath much longer than an actual human. It is an exciting sequence that is a definite upswing to this adventure. But once the distancing begins, greater divisiveness enters in. Should the blonde follow the boy, or her girl friend? The doorway to the left, or the monster hole to the right, which we have to imagine how the young man guessed that would go somewhere—I am guessing it was because it was barred by a chair shoved up against it as well as some planks of wood. (or had he been there before?) Meanwhile, the portrait (in pristine condition) creepily looks down on them from the bricked up mantle.

By now the gutters between panels have subtly thickened. The frames are reasonable size still. No weird angled compositions. Everyone still feels comfortable. Except Danielewski readers because they enter a dark hallway, and they find stairs. And as the random piece of furniture and peeling wallpaper turns to brick, fans of Poe feel their pulse increase.

They shouldn’t go down those steps. The sequence is tense and foreboding. The page where the three begin to descend is fantastic. wish I could give page numbers but it is the right side page, you’ll know it when you see it. The blonde girl is look anxious and already somewhat regretful. catty-corner on the page? the last frame before you hurriedly turn to see what happens next? That was nice.

I won’t say much more, but what follows in the disintegrating dark involves some terror-induced moments. I think I would have appreciated a more ambiguous ending, a sudden tick tick tick of a reel expended. But it is apparent Simmons  had a trajectory in mind.

House is a good, if not typical, horror-story. Teens will especially dig it. I’m sure something could be read into the story some implication or metaphor…Nothing came readily to my mind. Perhaps it was because I’d read Danielewski’s House of Leaves, but the story didn’t linger or haunt the same; nor was any of the psychological trauma inflicted—but it goes without saying that House is the shorter read. I could easily revisit it again, and play out a different dialog.

Logan sums up his review so nicely, I am going to steal quote it:

“If you’re looking for an eye-opening, brilliant graphic novel, House isn’t it. But if you’re wanting an adventure, thick with claustrophobia and tragedy, and some beautiful artwork, check this book out. “

"review" · fiction · Lit · mystery · Tales · Uncategorized

reading Dracula

Reading Dracula (notes)

I admit to not being a big fan of Vampire Fiction, or even Vampire Non-Fiction for that matter. However, please do not mistake this for full-blown ignorance.  I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the RIP V challenge and at my husband’s recommendation. We have plans to watch Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992) this weekend (hopefully during daylight hours), perhaps I will have a shorter, comparative post after. also, my apologies as the post is long.

7636611Dracula by Bram Stoker

I read the 1992 Barnes & Noble Books edition with the ugly cover. The picture (r) is nicer.

Hardback, 404 pages.

The aristocratic vampire that haunts the Transylvanian countryside has captivated readers’ imaginations since it was first published in 1897. Hindle asserts that Dracula depicts an embattled man’s struggle to recover his “deepest sense of himself as a man”, making it the “ultimate terror myth”. goodreads

As his chilling, suave monster stalks his prey from a crumbling castle in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania to an insane asylum in England to the bedrooms of his swooning female victims, the drama is infused with a more and more exquisite measure of sensuality and suspense.

Dracula is a classic of Gothic horror, an undying wellspring of modern mythology, and an irresistible entertainment. Publisher’s Comments

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a seminal work in Vampire Lore. Needless to say it is hard to approach the read without expectation, without feeling like someone has told you the story more than a couple of times. I was looking for  plot marks along the way to anticipate coming events. I had images of the characters firm in my mind. Fortunately, none of these hardships frustrated the read–none but one.

Stoker’s story is relayed through the sorted and dated collection of journal entries, letters, telegrams, and newspaper articles. Stoker has provided each of his characters with a definite look, personality, manner of speaking–some with dialects that are an effort to decipher. The bulk of the material for the novel is told by Jonathan Harker, Dr. John Seward, and Mina Harker who are keen observers and have fantastic memories for conversations.

At the beginning, just before the Table of Contents, Dracula asks that you believe that such records can be believed:

How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact. There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.

Suspend your disbelief at the door. The effort to provide all credibility to the horrific occurrences found in the collection of texts is not singular to the above paragraph. Stoker revisits authenticity throughout. Stoker would make sure that every action on the part of the actors appeared logical and wise, and informed. Rules are outlined, limitations and powers. Causes and effects are explored and explained–sometimes at tedium.Can we be truly frightened if we didn’t think it true? For the audience contemporary to the novel–the possibility of the real would be chilling, indeed. This is not the metaphorical read, but the ghost story by the fire. Are there really creatures like that, lurking?

<!> If you haven’t read Dracula skip to next asterisks. <!>

For those Readers (like me) who took courses like The Travel Narrative, the Journal Trope is challenging. I had a hard time with the memorization more than the observation powers of the Diarists/Journalists–though Stoker was thorough in considering his writers would be keen in both: Harker, a lawyer; Seward, a physician, The Journalists, also a job requirement. Mina, practices.

“Ah, then you have a good memory for facts, for details? It is not always so with young ladies.”

“No, doctor, but I wrote it all down at the time. I can show it to you if you like.”

“Oh, Madam Mina, I will be grateful; you will do me much favour.” I could not resist the temptation of mystifying him a bit—I suppose it is some of the taste of the original apple that remains still in our mouths—so I handed him the shorthand diary.” ~Mina’s Journal(196).

My distraction from suspension comes from two sources. The first is early–Van Helsing goes on and on, and rarely in a straightforward manner–while enough drama is occurring. The second is later, though for Hitchcock’s sensibilities I suppose it is late enough. The record/the novel is second hand–translated and typed by Mina.

And then there is this: at the very end, in the “Note” by Jonathan Harker.

We were struck with the fact, that in all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document; nothing but a mass of type-writing, except the later note-books of Mina and Seward and myself, and Van Helsing’s memorandum. We could hardly ask any one, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story. (404)

Yes, he is asking. Stoker (often in the form of Van Helsing) in his logic, his rhetoric, is nigh on diabolical in the read–dangerously close to ruining the Reader’s experience.

******

It took me a while to read Dracula as lovely readers of my blog know. The edition I read has 404 densely packed pages written in a somewhat foreign language. While compelled to turn the page when reading, I didn’t feel an equally strong passion to pick up the book and continue on once I set it down. There were three major reasons for leaving the book lay: It scared me, and it baffled my expectations, and it annoyed me.

Dracula scared me in a good way. The way Danielewski promised me in House of Leaves, but didn’t deliver. I had continually weird dreams, if not nightmares–though not of vampires. Stoker provided just a chilly enough atmosphere for my imagination to take root in, and grow. The descriptive powers of the book, in setting and action, are great. The little tales captured in the newspaper articles, or through interviews are incredible. The article about the Demeter and it’s captain’s log really got to me. Stoker knew when to leave off and when to conjure enough drama in action and language to convey absolute terror. He built from the little details, training the audience to remember and make connections. With Van Helsing’s encouragement both speculation and observation of detail enter the entries. The mystery of Count Dracula’s dealings unfold.

Stoker creates relationships between a set group of people. He is not the least frivolous in choosing the characters needed to pull off a mystery, a chase, and climactic ending. At times his choices are overtly convenient. Seeming to recognize the transparency, Stoker embraces it.

I felt so thankful that Lord Godalming is rich, and that both he and Mr. Morris, who also has plenty of money, are willing to spend it so freely. For if they did not, our little expedition could not start, either so promptly or so well equipped. Mina [Murray] Harker(381)

There are several Critical approaches to a reading of Dracula. I was reading it with the intent of entertainment–to be dawn into an adventure. However, some perspectives graft themselves quite neatly.

A reading can be made of the Colonialism in Dracula. Count Dracula would be the invading force, moving from a depleted, Knowing (believing), country to the heavily populated, Ignorant (disbelieving) London. Diabolical ideas infiltrating the ideological landscape; a change not just the behaviors of the native people, but their physical appearances as well; physical locations purchased where a foreign devil would reside… Bram Stoker is an Irish Novelist. Learning this, I am curious if he was playing with London–colonizing them in return, threatening them with their own spectre from the East.  Would have to do a bit of research and analysis there, but it is an interesting avenue.

A reading is easily made with the Feminist perspective in mind.  Despite my contemplations of Colonialism in the novel, I am not much of a Historicist. All those British Modernist discussions helped some. I tend to like a book as itself, not reading into the Author too much, if at all. I address the time period of the writing to usually provide excuse. The Mutually Male Appreciation Society and the Weak and Hysterical Female diatribes are nigh on insufferable, and desiring excuse. Remembering the Cultural Context, the prevalent attitudes, helps here. It was hard to stomach. While Lucy would be annoying in any event, she was doubly so to my mind. And Mina… Understanding the times do not make some passages easier to take, and it is distracting from the read. It certainly interrupts the pace. I began projecting Stoker onto Van Helsing and I wanted to choke the character–strangle them both simultaneously. It was hard not to skim read (in vengeance?).

“Ah, that wonderful Madam Mina! She has man’s brain—a brain that a man should have were he gifted—and a woman’s heart. […] We men are determined—nay are we not pledged?—to destroy this monster; but it is no part for a woman. Even if she be not harmed, her heart may fail her in so much and so many horrors; and hereafter she may suffer—both in waking, from her nerves and in sleep, from her dreams. (252)”—Van Helsing.

I want to read Dracula as a parody; perhaps as a coping mechanism? But I fear the ending fails me. I began in this way. Mina and Lucy could be doubled, having sisterly affection and so many things in common. Just the same, Mina is depicted as the more modern of the two. She is learned to type ( ), has dreams of a career ( ), and has a more man-like brain and other paraphernalia ( ). For all her masculinity (as compared to her peers), Mina cannot be faulted her womanliness–the story is determined in this. Mina does not become a monster, and is valiant in her efforts for decorum. Lucy does not, and her valiance is ineffectual. She subverts a man’s expectations at many turns.

While Mina is the very soul of strength and poise, the men are weeping all over the place. They exchange words of affection amongst other intimate acts. They are weakened by women, sexually enthralled, and made fearful of and for young women. Unfortunately, the danger women pose in making a man vulnerable is part of the horror for the Reader–some Readers. But in any good adventure and horror, balance is restored. Mina is made helpless, despite her best efforts, and her effort for decorum is ever praised, but she is still in need of saving in the end. The men are able to muster and become heroes, restoring masculinity and saving London from the insidiously evil, Count Dracula. [Ah, the dark, sensual, and superstitious East.] The ending is happy (sorry to spoil it for you). Mina has serviced all the men in the group, ensuring their legacy.

Ah, the sexual preoccupation to the novel. I love the repression in the language. The orgasmic fits of Lucy when bitten. Is it juvenile to be humored? I wondered aloud at the presence and use of the word Sperm, [Van Helsing] “Holding  his candle so that he could read the coffin plates, and so holding it that the sperm dropped in white patches which congealed as they touched the metal, he made assurance of Lucy’s coffin” (p211, “Seward’s Diary,” the first visit to Lucy’s tomb). Is it also a case of if I don’t laugh, I will cry? The demonizing of  sexuality in females (especially unwed) saturates the story; the sexuality between men may be more subtle. I say subtle because whether Dracula intended to bite Jonathan becomes ambiguous for a while. At the beginning it was a very real fear. The story distracts with the female victims that are central characters. But it should not be forgotten that men were bit in that vulnerable (many read, intimate) spot by Dracula, too. And they were immediately destroyed. Is it that the wanton is insidious and the perverse immediate in respect to their destructive powers?

The intimacy in the exchange of blood, in the transfusion, the ideas of physiognomy: those discussion in Dracula are interesting–though the word “child-brain” began to grate.  The attitudes in Science, and of Religion are very present and each provide essays of their own.

For all the adventure in the novel, there is a lot of weight for the modern Reader. Yet, it should be remembered that Dracula is an adventure story: a mystery to be solved, a hunt to be carefully plotted, and a monster to vanquish. The pages turned for me and the atmospheric created suspense and fear. There is a point near the end that it drug out–the planning sessions, but the story rebounded and raced forward toward its promised climactic ending.

I was amazed at how the read could draw and repulse me equally…(something a horror novel should do)…though perhaps it didn’t repulse me the way it intended. I thought Dracula a good read, and certainly an important one if you are interested in Vampire Lore.

******* <!> below may contain spoilers…but if you’ve read Dracula, I’ve a question.

Up-ended expectation one: Count Dracula’s appearance as Jonathan describes upon their meeting. I knew Dracula capable of changing forms. But his Count form differed. I like the idea that he morphed into wolf, though I don’t agree that they are “low” creatures.

two: Van Helsing is an old man, though fit, does tire; never fear, he  is virile as well as hyper-intelligent…in the age of blue-pills can we not imaging Van Helsing younger?

three and the question: Mina and Dracula. I missed the romantic triangle somewhere. I did not skim over the Mina/Dracula interactions, not one bit; because I was curious about it, in part, as I’d heard there was a book about Mina’s love of Dracula and the conflict of choosing between the Vampire and Harker. I fair interrogated Sean, poor man–who didn’t read said book, but is familiar with the Coppola film among others.

Where did the love affair between Dracula and Mina occur? I was annoyed not by the lack of triangle (that was actually refreshing), but that one was imagined and I missed it in the text somewhere, everywhere. An affair is nonsensical to the story–which is probably why I missed it? I wrote paragraphs this morning in digression, evidencing how it wouldn’t work in effort to find how it could. I asked myself, with the time spent, why does the question even matter? It’s just somebody’s fan-fiction. It’s just someone’s reading…

**

Blog Links with good, shorter, and actual reviews of Dracula: Polishing Mud Balls, That’s What She Read, This Miss Loves to Read.

"review" · fiction · Lit · mystery · non-fiction · philosophy/criticism · poet-related · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

the House that Mark built (1)

note: I am linking this review to the RIP V Challenge page so I will try valiantly to avoid spoilers.

The spoilers will return tomorrow, with part 2.

****

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Pantheon Books, 2000, 2nd Edition (2-Color version)

709+ pages of text and other things.

“Victoria Lucas once said, There’s nothing “so black…as the inferno of the human mind.””– Pelafina Lievre*

Mark Z. Danielewski’s debut novel House of Leaves lives on our bookshelf.  When browsing the shelves for the RIP V Challenge, Sean reassured me this was a horror novel. It is a horror novel, and a romance story, and … many other things. I will be focusing on the horror aspect. But First, I shall attempt  a brief description of the book.**

House of Leaves contains a manuscript written by Zampano, The Navidson Record. The Navidson Record is a treatise on a film of the same name, which is a documentary following Will Navidson, his lover Karen Green, and their children, Chad and Daisy, as they move into a new home in Virginia and create a sense of new beginnings for their family.  When doors and hallways appear that shouldn’t, events take a new dark turn.

Johnny Truant has found Zampano’s manuscript and notes in a black trunk that he liberates from the dead man’s apartment. Truant decides that he would publish Zampano’s work. The Introduction in House of Leaves is written by Truant and it concludes with a clear warning that the reader will not remain unaffected, and provides a warning:

It doesn’t happen immediately. You’ll finish and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years.[…]Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts […] only dark like a room. […]You’ll have forgotten what granted you this awareness in the first place.

[…]

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 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.” (xxii-xxiii).

Truant is clearly quite dramatic, but he will go on to illustrate exactly what he is talking about.  Throughout The Navidson Record Truant has included notes. They range from explanations on inclusions, exclusions, or missing pieces to what is going on in his life as he is editing Zampano’s work.  Then there are the Editors who have collected Truant’s work and have published the volume you are reading. They leave little footnotes, too.  Appendix 1 concerns Zampano, with notes and poems, etc. The second Appendix is Truant’s with poems, historical artifacts, and Letters from his mentally ill Mother.

House of Leaves is dense and complicated and not for the staid reader. Despite its unusual demeanor, the book is not impenetrable once one gets the hang of it. And really Danielewski builds the work in such away that the reader is eased into stories and format before attempting to further disorient. That is important to a good work of Horror, isn’t it? To disorient the reader. Danielewski uses word images and visual formatting quite brilliantly this way. Horror seeks a visceral response.

The House on Ash Tree Lane was built 1720 and “quite a few people have slept and suffered within those walls” (21). Some may have even suffered before (413-4).

House of Leaves employs most every trope any and all Horror novels and films could employ and even some they wouldn’t. Conspirators of fear are sprinkled throughout so if one kind of terror doesn’t grip you, be patient, another will.

There are the creepy children. This is one ingredient that is sure to give me chills. Chad and Daisy have their own unhealthy obsessive responses to the dark and endless corridors that haunt the house.  You are at times both terrified for them and of them. Then there is another kind of horror. The children are quite neglected by their parents, Will and Karen, who are caught up in their own neurosis (fast becoming psychosis). As you learn about some of the adult character’s pasts, they appear to foreshadow the children’s own outcomes; which would be terrible.

One of the more prevalent elements is the Monster. It stalks, it lurks, it imbibes. It shape-shifts, in transforms, it infiltrates. In googling “Elements of Horror,” I came across a discussion of “Monster” at DarkCloudPress.com and a reference to a Noel Carroll text:  “The monster must be regarded as both: 1) threatening, and 2) impure. If only threatening, then the emotion is fear. If only impure, the emotion is disgust. But, if both, the emotion is horror.”*** At turns characters and settings in House of Leaves do incited fear and disgust, but Danielewski does create a few characters that excite horror. And they are differentiated exactly as noted. They combine threat and impurity.

The House is bigger on the inside as it is on the outside. (Which wouldn’t initially be a terrifying idea for Doctor Who fans) “The horror was atypical. […] what took place amounts to a strange spatial violation” (24). The engineer Reston would later use the words spatial rape. It is an insidious source of anxiety in the house that only increases as time passes. This is even before The Explorations (#1-5) which take the reader/viewer into the supernatural and interminably black depths of the house. Perceptions and Realities shift. There is a growl. Is it a creature hunting or the walls moving (123)? Senses of direction are lost and rendered useless. Claustrophobia is explored and employed (in visual textual format, ie 443-58).

“Of course real horror does not depend upon the melodrama of shadows or even the conspiracies of night” (415).

There is the increased deterioration and disorientation of the characters, their perceptions, and even the text itself. The reader’s disorientation involves footnotes, occasional references to appendices, extensive notes by Truant, then the labyrinthine text (in the chapter about labyrinths), the oddly placed text, missing letters and words, to missing pages of manuscript, all the while questioning the veracity of what you are being told and by whom.

Which brings us to the Framing and the Unreliable narrator.

“I live at the end of some interminable corridor which the lucky damned can call hell but which the much unluckier atheists—and your mother heads up that bunch—must simply get used to calling home.” Pelafina Lievre.****

Despite our knowledge as the reader that The Navidson Record (the film) never existed (nor the treastise for that matter), the reader is suspended in the grasp of the stories being told. The Navidson parts are compelling. And for many others, so are Johnny Truants. Then there are Zampano’s notes and the Whalestone Letters in the back.  And the poems…

There can be no more unreliable a narrator than Zampano until we come to Johnny Truant: copious amounts of drug  and alcohol consumption; education?; mother in an Asylum; admitted storyteller and liar; manipulates the manuscript at whim; suffers memory loss; deteriorates physically and mentally…And yet his susceptibility to The Navidson Record is reliable. His parallels seem to manifest the creation of the Record and/or vice versa. “We all create stories to protect ourselves,” Johnny writes (20). He would direct our attention to Zampano and the swathes of text concerning the Minotaur Myth the enigmatic author would strike-out, but the saying applies to himself as well.

There is also the issue with the multiple frames. The contents of the film are revealed through multiple perspectives. The Navidson Record , the treatise, cannot simply narrate the events of the film it is analyzing without alerting the reader that the film does not, in fact, even exist and thus detract from the engrossing action/dialogue.  The necessity of the first frame, the concept of a treatise, is evident. Upon this layer Zampano employs many more, i.e. page 398: a summary of a paper analyzing a dream retold on film by Will Navidson; four transcriptions from “a dream” to Zampano’s work which is published by Truant and then Pantheon. Every layer interrogates the veracity of the initial event and its subsequent representations. To what purpose?

In the analysis of the Navidson documentary, representation and the veracity of events is ever in question. Note this footnote on page (346):

“[Navidson] subtly draws attention once again to the question of inadequacies in representation, no matter the medium, no matter how flawless […] mockingly emphasizes the fallen nature of any history by purposefully concocting an absurd number of generations. […]Representation does not replace. It only offers distance and in rare cases perspective.”*****

[Danielewski] not-so-subtly draws attention once again to the question of inadequacies in representation, mockingly emphasizing the fallen nature, purposefully concocting an absurd number of generations… Why is distance required? Is the necessity similar to that in the anxiety producing memory loss of various characters, most importantly Truant’s?

“He [the Director] quoted Emily Dickinson saying that I cover the abyss with a trance so my memories can manage a way around it—this “pain so utter.””.******

The horror cannot be directly looked upon, thus creating a greater fear in the unknown quantity that lies covered by the trance. What exists and what does not, what is Real and what is not, merely imagined or perceived incorrectly?

In a particular case concerning Johnny (the late Gdansk man encounter), the suspension of information, the lack of memory, and supposed action (his “intentions”) are more horrifying than what actually occurs in a later recollection.

In the case of the aforementioned “dream” analyzed on page 398, what is so threatening and impure about the dream that the horror must be distanced? Is the impact of what occurs in the dream lessened? Has it been replaced? Or is the offering merely perspective and this is not intended to be a creepy section of the book (which is entirely possible).

The film, the treatise, the notes…all create fear, and then systematically dismantles it; then rebuilds it, or did it ever really leave?, and then moves away from it again. Movement throughout House of Leaves creeps from one scare to the next and circles back or turns or drops or alludes to or explicitly tells to where you wish you hadn’t read that.

When all is said and done, House of Leaves is essentially a horror novel, but less about things that go bump in the night, and more about the empty spaces in our awareness, the tension between certainty and uncertainty, and the ambiguities in our apprehension of ourselves, others, and the world. ~Alan B Ruch (see)

While I agree with Ruch, there are plenty of bumps in the night for those reading for less the psychological-thriller and more the spine-tingler. Danielewski is looking at fear; its causes and manifestations. And while the effort of reading through the numerous facets of fear (its conceptions, projections, reproductions, etc.) seems like a lot of work for a good creepy novel, the moments of adrenal highs may still be worth it. (did that sound indecisive?) By book’s end, Hope far outscales Fear and little is left to linger but perhaps Grief.

***

I enjoyed House of Leaves even though at times it frustrated me. I would highly recommend it for the scare, for the mysteries, for the intellectual frippery, for the love stories. I’ve been thinking to whom I would recommend it. I started a list (with an understanding combinations would have to be made): cinephiles, readers of non-fiction, fiction, academic journals, and dangerous writing; modernists, post-modernists, structuralists, post-structuralists, readers of Borges, Baudrillard, Barthes, Plath, Dickinson, Palahniuk…, architects, engineers (maybe), graphic designers, those not struggling with pornography, followers of psychological fiction, historical fiction, violence, distortion,…the more adventurous literati,…people who know how footnotes work,…

Eric Wittermaus, in his book review for Flak Magazine, recommends House of Leaves this way (though I think there is plenty of scare in Truant’s storyline):

“Danielewski has created a book that’s something for everyone. For those seeking a truly frightening book, there’s The Navidson Record. For those looking for a well-crafted tale of an aimless, wandering drifter, there’s the story of Johnny Truant. Fans of clever, pomo annotation have the author’s glee club of footnotes and occasional pokes at academia, and typographers will doubtless spend hours scanning the book’s pages for clever ideas. There’s even a mother-son drama and a love story that both play larger roles in the book than many critics have acknowledged. And Area 51 maniacs and ex-CIA men alike will relish the task of decoding all Danilewski’s messages.”

If you fit the “older generation” designation that Danielewski goes on to illuminate, best avoid House of Leaves. Danielewski, in an interview with Sophie Cottrell at <boldtype>, recognizes that House of Leaves may irritate older generations:

Really the only thing challenging about my book is the idea of a book itself. Older generations–despite the fact that they’re multi-processing their morning breakfast, a train wreck in India and thoughts of an ailing friend–will find House of Leaves difficult because they’re prejudiced. They’ve been taught what a book should look like and how it should be read. Ruler-wielding didacts have instilled in them the notion that a book must start here, move along like this, and finish over there.

But books don’t have to be so limited. They can intensify informational content and experience. Multiple stories can lie side by side on the page. Search engines–in the case of House of Leaves a word index–will allow for easy cross-referencing. Passages may be found, studied, revisited, or even skimmed. And that’s just the beginning. Words can also be colored and those colors can have meaning. How quickly pages are turned or not turned can be addressed. Hell pages can be tilted, turned upside down, even read backwards.

Put your dictionary at your elbow, do not be daunted by the massive footnotes or the malevolent creature stalking the pages, find your reading chair and open the door leading to the labyrinthine corridor in the inferno of the human mind; and perhaps mind these symptoms: “obsessive behavior; weight loss; night terrors; vivid dreaming accompanied by increased mutism.”

*November 27, 1998 letter to her son Johnny Truant (637). Victoria Lucas a pseudonym of Sylvia Plath’s invention. “In the midst of her early success, [Sylvia] Plath experienced her first breakdown and famous disappearance. She was subsequently hospitalized and treated with shock therapy. Plath described the hospitalization as "[a] time of darkness, despair, and disillusion--so black only as the inferno of the human mind can be--symbolic death, and numb shock--then the painful agony of slow rebirth and psychic regeneration." This was followed by a suicide attempt in 1953 and six months of intensive therapy, paid for by a benefactress." [emphasis mine] Marie Griffin, Guest Contributor at About.com (link).  Note the similarities of Pelafina’s own breakdown and disappearance and her subsequent actions.
**when you've noticed I've failed in my attempt, you can follow the link to Powell's books and a link to wiki.
***link to “Elements of Horror” via DarkCloudPress.com’s Blog Files.  Reference to Noel Carroll's “The Nature of Horror, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 1987. p ?
****July 31, 1987 letter to Johnny (624).
***** I would cite the source, but it was made-up anyway and I am exhausted with the effort of documentation.~L
****** November 27, 1988 letter to Johnny from his mother, Pelafina Lievre(637). There is a Pain—So Utter by Emily Dickinson

There is a pain—so utter—
It swallows substance up—
Then covers the Abyss with Trance—
So Memory can step
Around—across—upon it—
As one within a Swoon—
Goes safely—where an open eye—
Would drop Him—Bone by Bone.

fiction · Lit · non-fiction · philosophy/criticism · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

surfacing

Please excuse me while I bring this brief but important message…

…I forgot today was picture day at the daughter’s school and she is wearing a shrinking red logoed t-shirt and a wash-worn ruffled turquoise skort. I think she brushed her hair, but that never lasts. I didn’t remember until we were pulling up to the drop-off curb. All the other children looked so shiny and neatly dressed. The daughter said she didn’t mind. She looked convincing, even after I asked her the twelfth time…

okay, that wasn’t the message, just on my mind. Even though it figures, the daughter, though beautiful, does not have the best history with school pictures… except this time, the error was mine… new school, trying to make friends…

Today, I am posting to say, that I am not posting much of anything today.

I know that this isn’t the first time I have been heard saying, “What have I gotten myself into!” but I am saying it again.

I started Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves for the RIP V Challenge the other day (I think before the weekend). Good friend Kevin read it a couple years ago, and Sean just after, and both loved it. Sean recommended it for the challenge as I was browsing our shelves. Said it was pretty creepy–and it is. It is also a bit daunting.

As of last night (and not reading constantly) I was at 140 pages. House of Leaves is 528+ pages long. The + (running through page 709) is: a Foreword and Introduction (viix-xiii), Exhibits, 3 Appendices, an Index, and Credits, and something else I haven’t read but it occupies page 709 (the Table of Contents reads “Yggdrasil.” Yes, not much to it at all. Except it does not read like a regular book might. As of getting out the door this morning I am at 266 pages–several pages had just a few sentences if not only a few words–what a relief after the disorienting 50-page Chapter IX.

(a sampling of Chapter IX, where the subject of Labyrinths are explored.)

There is The Navidson Record written by Zampano. The Record is an exploration of a documentary-film about a family and their house and it is of academic proportions in that it has quotes and footnotes out the wazoo. Add to this Johnny Truant’s own writings as he is collecting and pasting together The Navidson Record which came to him in pieces (some bloody) in a black trunk left in a dead man’s apartment. Truant makes comments and tells stories of his own goings-on as the book progresses.

It takes a bit of getting used to, following the footnotes. Truant’s writings are mixed in with the footnotes and may themselves run pages long. And then the footnotes have footnotes… And then there are the suggestions to read huge chunks out of one of the appendices in the back.

You know how someone will say that a character was great; that their inclusion was vital and brilliantly told? You know how someone will like a character, but they’ve read all the way through so they are working from a vision of the whole? They’ve perhaps forgotten the tedium or repulsion nearer the beginning of the read. I am waiting for said forgetfulness where Truant is concerned. Really, I am ready to get beyond the detailed updates of every f*ed up sexcapade in which he finds himself. I do not presently doubt the vital inclusion of Truant as a character he is drawn to be.  I think the grittiness of the depiction is more than I care to stand. I admit that my tolerance is probably lower than most.

Alas, the story of the Navidson and the House on Ash Tree Lane is wonderful, as are the analytical portions relating to cinematic critiques, the science and myths of echoes, labrynths, growling sounds as resonances vs monsters, etc.

So I am going to get back to it… the rescue of Exploration #4 hasn’t been going so well. I need to see if anyone else doesn’t make it out alive.

***

oh… I remembered that brief message: The Local Library District does not have M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman! Someone had mentioned “October in the Chair,” a short story found in M and probably my favorite therein, and I thought maybe I would like to read it (and the others). But when I went to look: The Local Library District does not have M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman?!   {me: later: aha! so “October in the Chair” is also in Fragile Things and the Library has that book. Whew!}