“What I want the audience to do is to fall in love with these people, and really to care about them and that creates the suspense that you need. Love creates horror.” – Stephen King
(Read Up to Chapter 20 and Appendix B)
I keep resisting this novel at every turn. You see, I know that to allow myself to be completely sucked into the conceit of the book will fuck me up emotionally, and I’m not completely prepared to deal with the fallout. So I’ve done my best to distance myself–speed reading the really depressing Johnny Truant sections and listening to pop culture podcasts immediately after a stretch of reading in order to drown out the narrative voice. I’ve even read two other, happier books since I’ve made the last post. The story will probably still stay with me regardless.
The expedition inside the house turns out disastrously, not only for the people who venture into the hallway but even the people who are left behind. The house has a way of clouding people’s judgment and turning them into the worst versions of themselves. We see this with Holloway’s not so gradual descent into homicidal madness, but also with Tom’s deterioration and fear.
Oh Tom. He ends up being my favorite character of all, a portrait of painfully nuanced humanity in the face of dehumanized horror. The house has forced him to grapple with the ugliest aspects of himself and he ends up losing to it in some ways, as evidenced by his backslide into alcoholism. But his resolve and his final sacrifice–the image of his mutilated hands and his noiseless annihilation still destroys me–really strikes home what Stephen King says in the interview I just quoted. Love creates horror.
I find the way that Danielewski frames the batshit things about the house really intriguing, since it seems that he is trying to strip away a lot of the culturally-tied aspects of horror. Sure, there is a reference to Greek myth with the Minotaur, but the rooms and corridors themselves are largely featureless. The section about carbon-testing the wall materials blew my mind, specifically the idea that to walk down a corridor is to careen through the cosmic time.
This may be entirely intentional, but the extended discussion of Will Navidson’s Pultizer-winning photograph “Delial” really disturbed me in a distinctly non-horror way. I looked up the photograph it was based on, taken by Kevin Carter. The photograph discussed in House of Leaves is basically the photo that won Carter his Pulitzer. It frames an emaciated girl struck by the Sudanese famine in the 90s, and she is collapsed on the ground while a vulture stalks her from behind. Zampano devotes a fair bit of textual real estate to discussing the photo as if Navidson had taken it, describing the way Karen Navidson uses it in a short film called “The Brief History of Who I Love.” A lot of it is an analysis of the framing of the photo, and how an artist like Navidson framed it in a specific way to evoke emotion. This is then contrasted with his drunken goodbye letter to Karen the day before he decides to reenter the house. In the letter, he reveals that he is constantly haunted by the photo, and the fact that the unknown subject whom he named Delial, actually died in his arms.
I know I’m part of the problem. I looked up the photo and obsessively pored over it, not to mention the information about Kevin Carter. But I find it really weird that a fictional work would basically exploit the details of an actual tragedy (two, if you count Carter’s eventual suicide) for a work of fiction. There’s also the issue of using a disaster such as the famine to add depth to a character, the way people would sometimes use historical wars to frame a love story. I’m just tired of it and it feels exploitative. Though to be fair, the novel does address that.
The last chapter I read has Will entering the house, this time with a bicycle. I’m not sure quite what to make of it, especially since there’s a vague cliffhanger at the very last page. I decided to leave that off for another day because the immediate pages are a complete left turn, delving into Johnny Truant’s notes again. Johnny’s life continues to creep me out, but I don’t really have anything to say about it. I still don’t quite know what’s the deal with Kyrie and why the Gdansk Man became suddenly important. I didn’t see that coming.
(I used the xkcd comic for my post photo because we need a little bit of levity in these parts. And by a little I mean a lot.)