Written by: Emily Sikes
“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”
—Philip K. Dick, VALIS
Open the dust jacket to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and the inside cover tells the reader that the story which they are about to embark upon is a published account from the scattered remnants of the essays and notes by Johnny Truant and Zampanò. Moving on to the table of contents page, the book is divided into an introduction by Truant, “The Navidson Record,” incomplete information for exhibits left by Zampanò, three appendices, and an index. Usually the copyright page is skipped over by the casual reader, but the page calls attention to itself by highlighting words in red and crossing them out. Already, the reader becomes aware that House of Leaves will not read like an average novel.
The main story that ties Truant with Zampanò together is Will Navidson. An accomplished photojournalist, he moves who moves his family into a house on Ash Tree Lane. He begins making a documentary about how his ex-super model wife and two children are adjusting to their new home. However, their lives take a sudden turn when they come back from a vacation and find that the space between the children’s bedroom and the hallway appears to be extended a few inches and painted black. Navidson calls his brother, Tom, to help measure the house, and what they find is that the length of the outside of the house does not match up with the measurements taken from within. They become further eluded when they discover that the closet in the living room opens up to a space of empty darkness.
Danielewski begins House of Leaves with Truant recounting how he obtains Zampanò’s “The Navidson Record” which is based on short films shot and edited by Navidson as well as interviews with his family. The book then moves on to the academic paper itself. Truant leaves footnotes throughout the text which occasionally deviate from the story of the Navidsons, but ultimately connects his experiences with the family at the end of “The Navidson Record.” As Zampanò writes, he cites esoteric authors whom he uses to help explain the existence of the record. Additionally, his writing style reflects his psychological state. When the events of the Navidsons begin to unravel into insanity, the pages of the text become eccentric. One page may be written backwards, and the next may be blank or dotted with one or two words that are upside down. This makes it so that the reader may speed through the book at times, but the rest of the time will be spent wandering in the footnotes within footnotes.
The main characters are highly developed and are transformed by the end of House of Leaves. The events of the story correspond to the mental states of the characters which gives an organic feel to the entirety of the book. Reading House of Leaves is disorienting, and this results in the reader sharing similar experiences with Truant, Zampanò, and the Navidsons. Even after the reader has put down the book, the unnerving journey leaves an aftertaste of fear. Just what is in the corner of that dark closet?
About the author: When Emily Sikes is not digesting volumes of 19th century literature for her English courses at the University of New Mexico, she is busy hunting shades in dusty tomes. She can be contacted at email@example.com anytime from dusk till dawn in between bouts of losing herself in the chiaroscuro corridors stalked by cats which passes for her mind. If Emily hears from you she can assure herself slightly that maybe—just maybe—that you are one of the furry shadows born from her corridors. Her dream is to live in a fire-lit library inhabited by sphinxes with vinyl records of The Cure and an unlimited supply of jasmine green tea and purple lipstick.