Horror, taken on the average, is the genre of fiction that has the strongest immediate effect on its audience and the weakest lasting effect. Cheap thrills are typically exacted from a situational awareness evolved to treat the unknown as a threat, then the hard constant of reality dismisses the fantastical images for what they are. The genre suffers from a dearth of authenticity; its verisimilitude exists only in the moment and rapidly evaporates under greater and greater scrutiny.
Yet that indescribable feeling of true authenticity is the heart of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Rather than presenting a single, cohesive tale, the book is about someone reading the book you hold in your hands, which itself is an analysis of a terrifying documentary which itself does not exist. These tiered levels of abstraction that separate the reader from the narrative actually make the narrative all the more frightening because the references from the imaginary author, Zampanò, and notes from the imaginary reader, Johnny Truant, cause the story to appear more real than it actually is. Rather than an observer, you feel as if “you are a participant, another level of a story that begins to occupy your own reality.”1
Is it Zampanò or Johnny…or is it you that is screaming out to an empty and unfeeling world, please, please Können Sie mir behilflich sein?2
1Rosemary Fontaine’s Borges Redux (San Francisco: Urban B-light, 2002)
2The hell is Lucksinger doing here? As usual, pretentious as all fuck with his German. Maddeningly unnecessary. Esoteric ≠ intelligent. Dipshit. I was going to look up a translation, but I decided finding its meaning would be an excellent excuse to see Yvonne again. German girl. Parents moved here from Germany, anyway. Lives in San Dimas or Ontario or Pomona or somewhere down 10. We left Lude at the bar while he was vainly attempting to impress a pair of sisters (sorority, not literal…I think) from USC with some fake Desert Storm story. She and I hit two drops each and then she hit the gas and pressed me deep into the leather. 110 120 130 while tripping how we didn’t die but I didn’t give a shit I embraced the imposition of the truth of mortality. I needed it. Badly. I’d been slipping. I don’t trust my house. I don’t trust the air. But in the blitz of color and light and truth I looked over to see that mad and beautiful smile her hair frozen in the air as time lost hold and her eyes fuck man. That feeling, you know the feeling, when it doesn’t matter how fucked shit is anywhere else, even two fucking feet from you, that pavement flying by wanting to reach up and grab you and rip your face off and fuck you if you think I’m being sentimental because this is where real life and real meaning is. Hell of a lot more meaning than wasting time finding the meaning of Lucksinger’s fucking meaningless linguistic flotsam.3
3“Can you help me?” – Ed.
——————-As the story progresses, space begins to stretch, but not just in the story. The words on the page lose their traditional, orderly placement. Whole sections go missing. In other sections only pieces have been recovered by the reader of the book within the book.
It captures you. It will not release you. It cannot release you. It is as it was and will be as a stone sits and the lark flies it will not be cannot anything but that which it is. It grabs you by the throat. It drags you into the darkness, the foreverblack of death, the home of your end. The Minotaur waits.
It’s a book about a man going crazy as he reads a book…which causes you to go crazy as you read it.
And as the walls of the house bend, the text in the book be n d s a n d
s t r e t c h e s w i th it.
You feel the haun
ting dread as the
walls squeeze tig
hter and tighter
around you. Claus
int from page
to synapse. It
disappears into the
Or perhaps it’s just a trick to tell a simple horror story. Or maybe “horror story” isn’t even a word that can be applied to a piece of art as unique as House of Leaves. What is it really? As Danielewski once said: “I had one woman come up to me in a bookstore and say, ‘You know, everyone told me it was a horror book, but when I finished it, I realized that it was a love story.’”4
Maybe it’s simpler. Maybe it’s not even a love story or a horror story. The book is filled with unnecessary and – for the most part – fake citations of – for the most part – arrogant and wrong-headed analysis of this fake documentary. It’s been suggested5 that House of Leaves is a satire of literary criticism.
Maybe I’m over-thinking it. Maybe we’re all over-thinking it. Maybe it’s just a parody of those of us who think so much of ourselves for thinking so much.
4Wittmershaus, Eric (2000-05-06), “Profile: Mark Z. Danielewski,” Flak Magazine
5Poole, Steven (2000-07-15), “Gothic scholar,” Guardian Unlimited