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Author Topic: House of Leaves  (Read 11510 times)
SFEley
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« on: February 25, 2007, 11:37:29 PM »

Just today I picked up House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.  I was mildly curious because I'm a big fan of Poe's album "Haunted."  Danielewski's her brother and many of her songs make references to the book.  And then Matt Selznick highly recommended it to me in chat.

It's a strange book, with strange formatting and use of color.  (The word house is always in blue.)  The narration's on several discrete levels: it's a Hollywood gonzo journalist's (I think) reconstruction of an eccentric old man's manuscript analyzing a documentary film about a terrifyingly strange house.  Half the story's in footnotes.  That kind of pretension usually annoys me, but in this case it seems to work.  I started reading the introduction for kicks, and I lost a couple of hours to it that I didn't intend to.

Weird storytelling tricks aside, this is the first horror novel I've read in a long time that had the effect of unsettling me within the first 40 pages.  That bodes well.
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« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2007, 03:14:38 PM »

The only book that gave that kind of... Feeling, was "The Pit, and the Pendulum", by Edgar Allen Poe. I read it at night, when I was eleven. Big mistake  Undecided
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SFEley
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« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2007, 01:57:22 AM »

Just today I picked up House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.  I was mildly curious because I'm a big fan of Poe's album "Haunted."  Danielewski's her brother and many of her songs make references to the book.  And then Matt Selznick highly recommended it to me in chat.

Okay, I'm just over halfway through House of Leaves now.  (Which really means I'm closer to done than that, since the appendices make up a big part of it.)  I'm not going to attempt a review.  At this point, midway through the book, there is only one possible way the novel can be described:

This book is fucked up.

Don't get me wrong -- it's very good.  It's a compulsive read, prose and footnotes and bizarre lists, and it's the best kind of horror novel: not so much scary as profoundly unsettling.  It doesn't have things constantly jumping out of the darkness; instead it meditates on the darkness.  And then you meditate on it too, and you invent your own reasons to be disturbed.

It's also completely and totally fucked up.  That part's tough to explain, and if I could be clearer without profanity I would refrain.  But that's exactly what the book is.  I challenge anyone else who's read it to come up with a better descriptor. 

More later, after I've finished it, maybe.
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Thaurismunths
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« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2007, 05:49:23 AM »

This book is fucked up.

Ever read Geek Love by Katherine Dunn?
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« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2007, 11:21:59 AM »

I've been eyeballing that book for a long time because I've heard so many good things about it.  This review might've just pushed me over the edge.  Thanks!  (I think.)
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Simon
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« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2007, 11:25:45 AM »

I'm very very jealous Steve,

I wish I had a chance to read HoL for the first time again (although just yesterday I finished The Baroque Cycle, and have a strong dose of that "what do I do with my life, now i'm not reading THIS" feeling)...  It completely blew me away the first time.

As I've noted elsewhere, I read it the weekend my Grandfather died, and that book just seared straight through me.  This discomfort, the intelligence and the totally unnerving atmosphere.  I know it's not to everyone tastes, and it is definitely more style than substance...  But WOW...  To me it twins with Dave Eggers's Heart Breaking Work Of Staggering Genius (published the same week) in its fancy schmansy publishing trickery.  But he uses it properly...

I've spent the last 2 months trying to break my way into Only Revolutions, his latest and even sillier book...  I must say it's not written in a way I can fit easily into my reading habits (You need to read it in units of 16 pages, 8 from the front and 8 from the back) and so I think he may have been a one shot author.

But what a shot...  That book is important to me.
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Rachel Swirsky
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« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2007, 03:18:05 PM »

Count me as another HoL lover. The feeling I get from it is not so much fright, as isolation and desperation. Wonderfully evocative.

I dragged my class in to see Danielewski when he came through Iowa City with his new book (which I haven't yet picked up a copy of... there's a note for the to-do list). I found him very interesting and charismatic.

Sometimes when I listen to experimental writers speak, I have this sinking disappointment as I realize there's not a lot of thought behind the weirdness. This is not the case for Danielewski. He delved into a lot of fascinating philosophy, lit theory, semiotics, etc.

 
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fiveyearwinter
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« Reply #7 on: March 01, 2007, 01:26:04 PM »

I've been meaning to read this book for Ages, ever since my Wikipedia exploration led me to find connections between it and the Silent Hill series.

Now I'm gonna hafta.
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mwsmedia
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« Reply #8 on: March 05, 2007, 12:41:19 AM »

"House of Leaves" was the only book I've read as an adult that didn't so much scare me as create actual, physical, biochemical fear in me.  I'm talking hyperventilating, cold sweats, goosebumps, dialated pupils... the whole bit.  Your basic primate reaction to danger.

While I was reading it.

It's also one of the few books that made me cry -- big, gulping, sobbing crying, too.

Might just be me.  It's the only book that managed to do both, though.

Glad you liked it, Steve!

I'll throw this one out there, on the subject of deeply moving genre books:  "The Sparrow," by Maria Doria Russell.  Its sequel, "Children of God," is excellent, too.  Those of you who've read it:  PLEASE NO SPOILERS.
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Matthew Wayne Selznick
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SFEley
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« Reply #9 on: March 05, 2007, 10:19:56 AM »

I'll throw this one out there, on the subject of deeply moving genre books:  "The Sparrow," by Maria Doria Russell.  Its sequel, "Children of God," is excellent, too.  Those of you who've read it:  PLEASE NO SPOILERS.

I won't spoil.  I will say, however: loved The Sparrow.  Really really loved it. 

Hated Children of God.  I didn't find any of the characters believable or engaging, and in particular the cheese required to get Sandoz onto a spaceship again was way over the top.  Of course, it's very likely I'd have enjoyed it more if I hadn't constantly been comparing it to the first book.
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fiveyearwinter
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« Reply #10 on: March 05, 2007, 11:30:39 AM »

I haven't read Children of God yet, but I did really enjoy The Sparrow.


Smiley I saw Mrs. Russel talk about Thread of Grace at our local library and was able to get her to sign a copy of The Sparrow and Children of God. Woots.
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amyr
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« Reply #11 on: March 08, 2007, 12:23:56 PM »

Spoilers follow...

I'm almost done with House of Leaves, and so far I agree it's totally mind blowing.

I'd like to throw out my theory on it and see what you all think...

My take on it is that the whole thing is the descent in to madness (schizophrenia/ possibly manic depressive) of "Johnny Truant".  In the beginning, in places where you read Johnny's notes, you can see him occasionally slip into the kind of 'stream of consciousness' writing that you also find in his mother's letters- any time he starts to delve into the realm of his own emotions.

I also believe that the House, Zampano, the Navidson/ Green family and associated friends (there were times that I thought that Chad may actually be Johnny), and all the associated professional interviewees and footnotes were just manifestations of Johnny slipping into the dark labyrinth of his troubled mind (the need for order through extensive lists. Reminds me of 'A Beautiful Mind'.). Karen, beautiful- just like Johnny's mother, Navy- brave, the 'saviour' as Johnny's father had saved him from his mother's insanity. Tom- nice guy/ looser not unlike the outward perception of Johnny. References that Johnny makes about the beauty of a woman's wrists, later to learn that Johnny remembers specifically his mother's wrists before his father took her away.

Also there is the duality of his final journaling- the evil, dark, murderous, blood filled memories- the barely contained rage balanced by the maybe true/ maybe false story about his doctor friends in Seattle.  While both stories maybe totally false, I feel they highlight the duality of his mind when in the throes of his illness (not unlike that of his mother) reflected through his writing. Which is true? Maybe neither... and as he points out extensively... what does it matter in the end?  Especially in light of the photographed note in Appendix B "Perhaps I will alter the whole thing. Kill both children..."

I could go on and on... Jonah and the Whale/ His mother in the Whale,  her encoded letter/ his encoded foot notes, the husky Johnny met up with in the park (Hillary), the references of rust when he talks of the dark (leading back to his memories of the sinking ship), a possible connection between the Haitian of his ship and Delial (this maybe something I'm just reading into it, but I could never quite grasp why the Haitian was so important until the story of Delial came to light), the five and a half minutes it took Johnny's father to get his mother out of the house/ the five and a half minute hallway.

I keep adding to this, sorry. 

To me there is no house, no Zampano, no murdered Kyrie, just a lost, damaged and tragically brilliant man trying to break the hold of his mother's illness over his life and his mind. I think that Zampano is the character Johnny uses to tell the story of a family trying to stay together, a make-believe story that Johnny wants to be real, to prove that a family can stay together and be happy, unlike his. Unfortunately, he could not keep his demons out of their lives, and though they overcame his monstrous trials in the end, I don't know if Johnny is really sure the same will hold true for himself.

So, there. My two cents.
« Last Edit: March 08, 2007, 12:50:50 PM by amyr » Logged
SFEley
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« Reply #12 on: March 08, 2007, 02:48:12 PM »

My take on it is that the whole thing is the descent in to madness (schizophrenia/ possibly manic depressive) of "Johnny Truant".  In the beginning, in places where you read Johnny's notes, you can see him occasionally slip into the kind of 'stream of consciousness' writing that you also find in his mother's letters- any time he starts to delve into the realm of his own emotions.

This is a great analysis.  Since we're into spoiler space, I'll give my own thoughts too.  >8->

I agree with you that Johnny's definitely going insane -- and that it's inherited.  I wasn't really thinking, though, about whether he'd invented Zampanò and the manuscript.  I think your theory is consistent and could easily be right: if it is, then Zampanò's writing is his attempt to psychoanalyze himself.  But that would also mean that Johnny's even more schizophrenic than he seems, and that his entire surface personality is a front, a self-repression.  Zampanò's smarter than Johnny.  And Johnny makes several grammatical mistakes that Zampanò doesn't.  If Zampanò really is Johnny, then he's probably a more sincere and real Johnny, trying to break through the lifelong defenses of appearing dumb and unsuccessful.

...And it just occurs to me now, if the house is really just a therapeutic metaphor, then I suppose the "growling" is really a warning of all this.  It's a warning of the mental constructs breaking down.  And when the house destroys someone, I guess it's really destroying aspects of Johnny's ego?

This also leads to an interesting question: in the innermost story, everyone who doesn't die comes out saner by the end.  It's a happy ending.  Zampanò is dead, I suppose because as a self-analytical construct he can't be given life.  But what about Johnny?  Does he come out saner too?  Is this a happy ending for him?  Signs point to "yes" if the inner narrative is really his story -- but his own notes don't make it clear.


...Anyway, you just got me thinking about all that as I worked out what you said.  As I was reading it, I wasn't worried about the "truth" of it all.  I was just enjoying the story.  (Well, stories.)  What impressed me at the time of reading was how the narrative layers  also separated the levels of "impact" in the story:

  • The innermost layer, Navidson's story, was a true documentary in that Navidson only documents what actually happened.  (With one or two exceptions, e.g. Karen's additions.)
  • Zampanò's manuscript is the intellectual analysis of what happened, guiding the reader's speculation on what it means, how it might have come about, etc.
  • Johnny's footnotes are the emotional reaction, showing the real power of what happened and guiding its effect on the reader by showing an exaggerated case of how it might mess a person up.

Most novels are either documentary only, or they weave the analysis and reaction into the same narrative by having the primary characters do it.  Separating them here makes them all stronger by giving them their own space and rendering them explicit.  You could go even further with this (is the "Editor" from some footnotes another narrative layer with its own meaning?  What about Danielewski himself?) but those were the ones that struck me as really important.


Wow.  It's great to have people to be able to talk to about this book.  >8->  I've been driving Anna nuts by telling her how the book was getting to me, while trying not to go into too much detail in case she reads it later on.
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amyr
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« Reply #13 on: March 08, 2007, 03:05:04 PM »

Quote
...And it just occurs to me now, if the house is really just a therapeutic metaphor, then I suppose the "growling" is really a warning of all this.  It's a warning of the mental constructs breaking down.  And when the house destroys someone, I guess it's really destroying aspects of Johnny's ego?

I remember there at the end, when Johnny is delving into the whole frying pan incident, that he at first remembered that his father roared. Later he corrects this, but I remember at the time thinking that the description was not unlike that of the growl of the house.  I always thought the growl of the house indicated a coming shift in the construction, and at the point of the frying pan story I wondered if the roar was not associated with a shift in Johnny's psyche or at the very least a radical change in the fabric of his family life.



Quote
But what about Johnny?  Does he come out saner too?

There are notes from August 1999 that indicate he may have a better hold on his life, that gave me a kind of hope for him.

Quote
    * The innermost layer, Navidson's story, was a true documentary in that Navidson only documents what actually happened.  (With one or two exceptions, e.g. Karen's additions.)
    * Zampanò's manuscript is the intellectual analysis of what happened, guiding the reader's speculation on what it means, how it might have come about, etc.
    * Johnny's footnotes are the emotional reaction, showing the real power of what happened and guiding its effect on the reader by showing an exaggerated case of how it might mess a person up.

I like this theory, and I can see it fitting in my previous theory as well. Say I am wrong, and there was indeed a real Zampano and Navidson Report.  Johnny definitely used it to try to exorcise his own demons, and it seems as though Zampano may have done so as well.  The whole bit at the end, when Johnny runs across Liberty Bell and sees the book, hears about others who have read it and how they have either come from it changed or been swallowed up by it seem like concrete proof of your theory. 

Quote
And when the house destroys someone, I guess it's really destroying aspects of Johnny's ego?
Ach! Here I go again, adding adding.  Right about the time that the story focuses on Tom's time in the Great Hall and eventual death, (correct me if I'm wrong), Johnny stopped drinking, doing drugs, having affairs, and his writing changed, he was dragged deeper into his troubles, but his tone and style changed some.  I need to go look and make sure I'm not confused, but I think this is the order of things.

Food for thought!
« Last Edit: March 08, 2007, 03:20:06 PM by amyr » Logged
SFEley
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« Reply #14 on: March 08, 2007, 03:24:08 PM »

There are notes from August 1999 that indicate he may have a better hold on his life, that gave me a kind of hope for him.

The bit in his diary when he's in the bar buying drinks for the band, and it turns out they've read House of Leaves?  I enjoyed that, but the strong conviction I got was that he was making it up, just like he'd made up the story of the Seattle doctor family.  It was wish fulfillment, visualizing a better life for himself. 

The very depressing interpretation would be that this was his version of his mother's very calm, "I am cured, please send me a suitcase so that I can pack," just before she committed suicide.  Or...  Hell.  For that matter, the whole thing, including the happy ending for Navidson, could be Johnny's mental housecleaning before doing exactly that.


I've also been trying to figure out whether my edition's claim that it's the "second edition" -- that the first edition, minus a chapter or two and Appendix B, was privately distributed -- is remotely true or just another layer of the fiction.  I guess if I really wanted to I could research this.  The fact that I haven't may mean that part of me doesn't want all the illusions punctured.  (Though I'm still curious.)  >8->


Quote
I like this theory, and I can see it fitting in my previous theory as well. Say I am wrong, and there was indeed a real Zampano and Navidson Report.

It's also quite possible (in fact I think it's the strictly literal read) that there was a real Zampanò but not a real Navidson report.  Truant's clear belief is that Zampanò was the really obsessive one, making up the whole film and all the bloody footnotes, though eventually Johnny did get at least skeptical enough to harass Ken Burns and Camille Paglia and such people to make sure.  The "Perhaps I will alter the whole thing" card would be Zampanò's -- which makes sense because the little red annotation above it about the etymology of "ghost" looks like something he'd write.

Or maybe the card is really Danielewski's, a working note for himself, and he put it into the collage there just to fuck with us.  >8->

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SFEley
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« Reply #15 on: March 08, 2007, 03:28:21 PM »

Ach! Here I go again, adding adding.  Right about the time that the story focuses on Tom's time in the Great Hall and eventual death, (correct me if I'm wrong), Johnny stopped drinking, doing drugs, having affairs, and his writing changed, he was dragged deeper into his troubles, but his tone and style changed some.  I need to go look and make sure I'm not confused, but I think this is the order of things.

Interesting point!

And now you've made me want to go back and see what happened to Johnny's notes just after Holloway the hunter died.

(And here I thought I was done with the book just because I'd finished reading it...)  >8->
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amyr
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« Reply #16 on: March 08, 2007, 03:35:14 PM »

Quote
The very depressing interpretation would be that this was his version of his mother's very calm, "I am cured, please send me a suitcase so that I can pack," just before she committed suicide.  Or...  Hell.  For that matter, the whole thing, including the happy ending for Navidson, could be Johnny's mental housecleaning before doing exactly that.

Oh, man. I hadn't even thought of that.  That is so right on.

Quote
It's also quite possible (in fact I think it's the strictly literal read) that there was a real Zampanò but not a real Navidson report.  Truant's clear belief is that Zampanò was the really obsessive one, making up the whole film and all the bloody footnotes, though eventually Johnny did get at least skeptical enough to harass Ken Burns and Camille Paglia and such people to make sure.  The "Perhaps I will alter the whole thing" card would be Zampanò's -- which makes sense because the little red annotation above it about the etymology of "ghost" looks like something he'd write.

And another good point.  You know I got so carried away in this book that I think I've put a few details to the side, like the admission that there was no proof of a Navidson Report.   Which could lead us down all kinds of labyrinthine rabbit holes. 

And we haven't even brought up the parts about the Minotaur- the deformed son of Minos- the broken son of Donnie?
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amyr
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« Reply #17 on: March 08, 2007, 03:51:44 PM »

I just looked up the Holloway bit, and at the section that starts the Holloway tape, Lude comes to take Johnny out but he won't go, Lude councils him to get rid of the Zampano stuff. Johnny breaks into memories of Raymond.  I had thought that Holloway might have some tie in with Raymond, but I had not thought much more on it yet.  This is also the chapter about the Minotaur, and the discussion of Holloway's suicidal thoughts, as well as Navidon's. It also is the chapter where Tom dies.

And Johhny thinks he hears a roar. 
« Last Edit: March 08, 2007, 03:55:19 PM by amyr » Logged
Roney
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« Reply #18 on: March 08, 2007, 05:32:28 PM »

I've also been trying to figure out whether my edition's claim that it's the "second edition" -- that the first edition, minus a chapter or two and Appendix B, was privately distributed -- is remotely true or just another layer of the fiction.  I guess if I really wanted to I could research this.  The fact that I haven't may mean that part of me doesn't want all the illusions punctured.  (Though I'm still curious.)  >8->

Now you've made me go and get the damn thing down of the shelf.  I've been trying to resist ever since you mentioned that house was in blue (I've got some iffy UK copy where house is just in a fuzzy, pixellated grey).  Or are you playing along with the gag and just pretending you've got one of the Color editions?  With braille?  I always assumed that they were mythical.

My copy has the "second edition" note in the foreword (before the dedication that hooked me on HoL from the start).  I definitely think that a privately-distributed-yet-formally-published edition is mythical.

Quote
It's also quite possible (in fact I think it's the strictly literal read) that there was a real Zampanò but not a real Navidson report.

That was my first take, but then I was having a hard enough time getting my head around the surface interpretation to go looking for subtle hints.  Second time through, clued-in to the fact that Johnny is God-Emperor of the Unreliable Narrators, the "he's making it all up" interpretation struck me as much more plausible.  I've no idea what a third reading might bring.

And now it's calling...

Man, and I'm already three days behind on my LotR-in-realtime project.

Quote
the little red annotation

You do have a color edition.  Sad

I'd love to comment more but I'll just get confused if I work from such dim memories.  It's probably time I read it again, if only to experience the pain/joy of the footnote labyrinth that runs in parallel to the narrative labyrinth sequence2 and dead-ends3.  Best use of meta-textual fanciness that I've ever seen.

1 circular references1
2 with its back-tracking1
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Rachel Swirsky
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« Reply #19 on: March 10, 2007, 03:47:00 PM »

Quote
That was my first take, but then I was having a hard enough time getting my head around the surface interpretation to go looking for subtle hints.  Second time through, clued-in to the fact that Johnny is God-Emperor of the Unreliable Narrators, the "he's making it all up" interpretation struck me as much more plausible.  I've no idea what a third reading might bring.

This is one of those books where, for me, the reality or non-reality of any given element is superfluous to the meaning of the story. I don't really read this as a puzzle to be solved (not saying you do), but as a number of characters and themes placed in tension to raise questions, associations, and above all, mood.
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Roney
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« Reply #20 on: March 10, 2007, 05:59:02 PM »

This is one of those books where, for me, the reality or non-reality of any given element is superfluous to the meaning of the story. I don't really read this as a puzzle to be solved (not saying you do), but as a number of characters and themes placed in tension to raise questions, associations, and above all, mood.

I couldn't agree more.  The confusion is all part of the joy.  In fact, if I ever felt that I'd "solved" it, I expect that I'd feel that the book was... diminished.  Like deducing how a conjuring trick works.
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« Reply #21 on: June 17, 2007, 08:40:10 AM »

I do have to agree with Mr. Eley in saying that the book is Fucked up beyond belief.

Beyond the fucked up'idness (can I use that word here?), the thing that really got me was that the story was extremely deep. First, Danielewski makes you care about Johnny Truant, but then he introduces you to the Navidson report, where even though the story may be fake or true (We can't trust the overall narrator Truant), you still care for the characters in the Navidson report. Even at the end with Truant's mothers letters you end up caring about her.

I'm going through Danielewski's second book "Only Revolutions" and while I'm enjoying it, I'm not enjoying it nearly as much as HoL
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