March 2000
Page 79

MZD standing on a hotel room bed, touching the celing[caption: Going above and beyond: the frighteningly talented Mark Danielewski.]
[Photo credit: Darcy Hemley]



This, more or less but only sort of, is what transpires in the 700 pages of Mark Danielewski's stunning debut novel, House of Leaves: Hedonistic L.A. clubgoer Johnny Truant descends into madness after discovering the manuscript of Zampanò, a reclusive, recently dead blind man who spent his days deconstructing The Navidson Record, a homemade video documentary about a haunted house whose interior dimensions exceed its exterior dimensions. Like its primary subject, Leaves, too, is larger inside than out. Much larger. The book is told in the form of Zampanò's scholarly manuscript, which was edited by Truant, and is packed with footnotes that annotate the manuscript--and tell Truant's personal story. Compounding this, some of the footnotes reference real material (Tolstoy, Greek mythology, various scientific principles); most reference fabricated material (fake magazine articles, books, movies). Add multiple unreliable narrators and typesetting that forces the reader to physically rotate the book during one sequence, and what could have been a perfectly entertaining bit of literary horror is instead an assault on the nature of story.

The son of an avant-garde filmmaker, Danielewski, 33, is a Yale graduate, bodyboarder, and working plumber. After college he traveled around Europe with a copy of the King James Bible and Shakespeare's tragedies, marveling at how two books could contain the world, yet wondering how much more a book could do. "It took close to three weeks to typeset the book," says Danielewski about his experience in New York City, helping to lay out Leaves. "I wanted to set up a visual dynamic in terms of how text moves. When you hit chapter nine, the labyrinth sequence, the typography is designed to slow you down, then the next chapter, the rescue, is only three or four words per page so you speed through 100 pages. Books are great analog computers--you can go from page one to the last page almost instantly. We haven't begun to push boundaries on books yet." DENNIS CASS