I’ll be honest, before I picked up Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, the last scary book I read might have been from the Goosebump series. (And I read a lot of those!) I like Stephen King, but more for his determination as a writer than his actual work. Though the movie version of Pet Cemetery was scary. Like, really f-ing scary. I digress!
Leaves was borrowed from a friend with only the enthusiastic push, “You have got to read this!” I knew very little of its contents, but paging through it, with it’s pages of only a few lines, it’s oddly angled sentences slashed across the page, I thought it almost looked like poetry.
The story is an esoteric journey of two stories unfolding at once: the first, of the discovery of texts on a house, all written as straight forward, journalistic newspaper clippings and university papers, all designed to make the reader feel as though we are getting a glimpse into a hidden factual history. We meet Will Navidson, an ex-war photojournalist who now lives at home to work on his role as a husband and father. He sets up his cameras throughout their home to create a family record. One day, while working around the house, he discovers something odd: the inside of the house is exactly 3/4 of an inch longer than the outside.
Navidson calls other people, his friends, his wife, to double check his accuracy. But much to everyone’s disbelief, he is right. Somehow, space was growing inside the house. The cameras document every new horrible twist, as the space grows to include a 10 foot pitch black hallway, and eventually an entirely black, icy, menacing world.
The surrealism is faint. There are no monsters or zombies or lost loved ones living in the blackness. In fact, we never really know what is there, if anything. We know only that the vastness exists, this nefarious, impossibly never-ending darkness, and that it is terrifying those who live in the home.
What becomes known only by the very few as The Navidson Record is studied by Zampano, an older man who is obsessed with the story. We learn of Will Navidson and his black hole through Zampano’s studies.
Weaving throughout this story is the character who finds Zampano’s box of documents on The Navidson Record following the old man’s death. Johnny Truant, a slightly feckless, youthfully selfish tattoo apprentice from LA, believes he can turn the texts into a publishable book. Through a series of footnotes that fill the bottom of the pages, we share Truant’s disbelief at the information he’s reading, just as we experience our own. The more Truant learns, the more he himself begins to feel crazed by the information, dragging us with him. As the words on the pages become more and more insidious, we experience the character’s mental breakdown just as he does. What follows is a chilling tale on the real versus the surreal, as we find ourselves falling into the same despairing places as Truant.
The emotional realness is what has prompted cult fans in the depths of the interwebs to go on their own mission to discover The Navidson Record. The book is downright terrifying, but incredibly, through its dual story lines and fiction presented as fact, it has worked to elevate the novel, leading the reader to question the lines between what we know to be true and what can simply not be explained.
I won’t ever read it again (it seriously had me fearing closets). But I encourage you all to, at least once. Happy Halloween!