Six chapters or so into House of Leaves and I’ve decided for myself that this is a novel about compulsion. I think it’s essential for the reader of a book like this–that even explodes the idea of sequential reading–to find (or invent) a way to ground herself in the story.
The novel currently oscillates between two storylines, the first being The Navidson Record, a manuscript allegedly written by a man named Zampano about a film allegedly made by famed photography Will Navidson about a house that allegedly exists in Ash Tree Lane. The second storyline (typeset in monospace font) is Johnny Truant’s first person narration of how he came upon the manuscript and its effect on his life. The novel then acts as a sort of continuously zooming image with no end in sight–except perhaps a neverending hallway.
The compulsions that I raised include the sort of graphomania that has caused Zampano to spin out this manuscript, Johnny’s compulsion to get to the bottom of the Zampano mystery, and Will Navidson’s compulsion to narrativize and stage-manage his family’s ostensibly mundane home life. This novel is filled with people who can’t help but do the things that they do, often with the flimsiest of justifications. This idea was sort of floated in the Reading Buddies thread, about why Will Navidson hadn’t uprooted his entire family at the first sign of weirdness in the house. I also felt this way about his obsession about the quarter-inch that first reflected his measurements.
I like the The Navidson Record much more than the the Johnny Truant marginalia. Part of the reason why is probably my admiration for authorial commitment, even to the point of absurdism. Like, Zampano does not quite reach the levels of batshit analysis reached by the likes of Helene Cixous (I’m linking to a PDF of her essay in which she proposes that “little red riding hood” is the symbolism for the clitoris, among other interpretations of fairy tales), but it’s pretty damn close.
There is also a lot of Gen-X swagger in the Johnny Truant story that turns me off a little. So okay dude, you’re a L.A. vagabond doing drugs and hitting bars and being promiscuous. Whoop de doo.* I’ve also been pretty weary and (wary) of plot ideas that hinge on the basic premise of, “Is it supernatural or is this person CRAZY????” and the Truant story flirts with that Idea. I mean, that plot twist had been fresh when Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper in 1892. (It’s also the reason why I loathe the Bertha Mason plot point in Jane Eyre but well… digression.) I have to allow, however, that Danielewski uses this trope to its best effect here, and it actually means something.
I’m not very successful in finding a quiet space from where to read this book–always a TV on somewhere in the house, family members constantly conversing, an open PC with an internet connection always within reach–but I have a feeling that my subconscious has a little bit to do with it. This way certain passages wouldn’t root itself as viscerally into my brain the way it had before.
*But when the bravado falls away Johnny seems to almost fillet himself to reveal everything inside him that’s afraid and broken, and it hurts you too. He’s like a walking open wound. Ugh, I feel for him so much but he distresses me.