I thought this collection was really fantastic. Last year I read Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl and was a bit underwhelmed by it. After picking up...moreI thought this collection was really fantastic. Last year I read Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl and was a bit underwhelmed by it. After picking up Pump Six as part of the Humble Ebook Bundle and quickly devouring it, I have to say that this guy definitely deserves the hype around his name.
Pump Six is pretty firmly in the camp of science fiction except "Softer". Aside from that one, all of the stories take place at least a hundred years in the future, after natural resources become scarce, petroleum economies stagnate for good, environmental disasters ravage population centers and we find new and interesting ways to keep ourselves entertained.
My personal favorites were "The Fluted Girl", "The People of Sand and Slag", "Yellow Card Man" and "Pump Six". All of the stories were good, and the book was very difficult to put down.(less)
EDIT: I've since reread the book and seen the light. 5 stars.
“Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not abo...moreEDIT: I've since reread the book and seen the light. 5 stars.
“Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer.” (p.527)
House of Leaves features unreliable narration, a disjointed plot, and grueling language games. It's dressed up in pretty colors and pseudo-academia, formatted in an obnoxious way and clearly marketed to elitist hipsters, art critics and English majors. I avoided the book because of the type of reader it attracts. However, from descriptions of the subject matter and its evidently unique style and solid placement in the literary canon, I ultimately gave in to curiosity.
So what is it, exactly, and why did I give it four stars? The bulk of the book is made up of a dissertation called The Navidson Record, which is about a documentary film of the same name. House of Leaves is the present compilation featuring The Navidson Record written by Zampanò and supplemented after his death with the writings of the manuscript's finder Johnny Truant, journal-style. It also has a couple of appendices of additional materials compiled by both authors and the editors.
The Navidson Record was supposedly a low-budget movie documenting the unusual events that took place in Will and Karen Navidson's house circa 1990. After a series of bootleg distributions, it blew up into a cultural phenomenon. The premise is simple. A famous photographer desires to settle down in Virginia to spend more time with his family. He decides to document the experience, setting up cameras all around the house he buys with his wife, presumably to capture some feel-good cinéma vérité American family moments. Upon moving into the house, Navidson started noticing strange things about it: namely that the size of it seems to be constantly in flux. It starts as a curiosity, one room is bigger on the inside of the house than the outside. Curiosity quickly turns to horror when a mysterious doorway appears in their living room leading to a dark, freezing cold hallway that couldn't physically exist without stretching outside into their yard, yet there it sits. What follows is a tense description of Navidson and company's attempts to explore their own house and what each of them finds in the darkness. Pretty straightforward so far, but wait there's more.
"Les jeux sont faits. Nous sommes fucked."(p.38)
House of Leaves is incredibly dense, being both physically heavy, thick and somewhat awkward to hold, as well as being written with many layers of symbolism variously arranged and featuring a narrator whose sanity is constantly eroding. Did I mention that it's fucking difficult to read? While the book centers around The Navidson Record, there are a lot of other things going on in the background. Both Zampanò and Johnny Truant insert a beyond-liberal amount of footnotes that you have to wade through at times. Often the footnotes have footnotes. I think I let out an audible groan around page 120 where things start getting really freaky. In one page you can find footnotes from both authors and the 'editors' and blocks of text oriented upside down or sideways, even backwards. I had to use a mirror on one page. Sprinkled throughout the narrative are allusions to Greek mythology, ruminations on the origins and character of darkness and many long-winded psychological analyses of the Navidsons and references to critical and popular thoughts on the film on a moment-to-moment basis.
Peppered among the high-brow, clinically academic description of The Navidson Record are footnotes leading to pages and pages of Johnny Truant's tangents: adventures in poverty on the streets of various cities, moist tributes to one-night-stands and exhaustive ramblings about going on drug binges with his best friend Lude. Johnny is quite the storyteller, and just about any word in Zampanò's narrative can set him off on a ten-page rant. He also admits to not telling the whole story or outright lying at times, so there's that. Johnny claims that Zampanò's manuscript is driving him insane. JT's part gets a little more interesting as things unfold.
Everything falls apart.
Stories heard but not recalled. Letters too. Words filling my head. Fragmenting like artillery shells. Shrapnel, like syllables, flying everywhere. Terrible syllables. Sharp. Cracked. Traveling at murderous speed. Tearing through it all in a very, very bad perhaps even irreparable way. Known. Some. Call. Is. Air. Am? Incoherent - yes. Without meaning - I'm afraid not.(p.71)
Giving this book a star rating is very difficult. On the one hand, I want to give it two stars because of the contrived, "look-at-me!" formatting and absurd demands it makes on readers. I rolled my eyes every time I came across the word "house" which is always printed in blue, even when it appears in other languages (haus, maison) or as parts of other words (Hausberger). I also despise the repeated use of phrasing like "but he had no idea how bad it would get". I really want to wipe the smug smile off Mark Danielewski's face, which must be permanently fixed. Oh how he must laugh as we struggle with his pile of postmodern bullshit.
Can Navidson's house exist without the experience of itself?(p.172)
On the other hand, this book has inexplicably haunted me for the past few days as I feverishly devoured every last page. As I sloshed through the muck of made-up primary sources and intellectual gobble-de-gook, trying to get back to "the good parts" i.e. what is actually happening to the Navidsons, I found myself following the upside-down crossed-out and edited text further down the rabbit hole until I found myself not only immersed but entranced, searching for the meaning, even with the Johnny Truant story.
Ultimately House of Leaves is idiotic and futile, but god damn if it isn't gripping. My reactions spanned the range of human emotions. I experienced primarily frustration, but also grief and sadness, amusement, and a few times a sense of terrible agoraphobia which caused me to break out in a cold sweat and turn on all the lights in the house. My brain was constantly working, absorbing the ridiculous anecdotes and correlating scientific terms and historical tales which I thought previously unrelated. This book forces you to construct its reality. So what does it all mean? That is left up for your interpretation.
Little solace comes to those who grieve when thoughts keep drifting as walls keep shifting and this great blue world of ours seems a house of leaves
moments before the wind(p.563)
While House of Leaves loudly beats readers into submission with gimmicks, ultimately the book succeeded in altering my perception of reality. As I said it also made me experience a range of emotion, to the point of extreme discomfort. Whatever you feel before, during and after it, this book will affect you. Thus I have to forgive the self-righteously clever page layouts and frustrating density and give this book a grudging four stars, rounded from three and a half. Screw you, Danielewski.(less)
Profound, hilarious, academic and referential yet accessible and entertaining. The characters are so endearingly fucked up and developed that they fee...moreProfound, hilarious, academic and referential yet accessible and entertaining. The characters are so endearingly fucked up and developed that they feel like members of your own family after a while.
Stick with it. That is my advice to you. Use two bookmarks: one for your current page and one for marking which end-note you are at. And when you read to the end, turn back to the beginning.