I'm a well read grad student who's bluntly honest about all things, although I try to be most honest about myself.
Danielewski always impresses me, but I wasn’t going to buy this in hardcover until I saw it signed at the Brookline Booksmith. Yes, please! I’m so happy I got it, because I haven’t seen a paperback yet and it is amazing. I was hesitant to spend so much money on it, because while I love House of Leaves, I have as yet been able to get through Only Revolutions, at least how he says to read it. (Which is how I want to read it. Six pages from one side, then six pages from the other. Get the hardcover, and you’ll see!)
But this is a rather simplistic read compared to that, at least on first glance. Many pages are blank, for example; open it up, and one page tends to have the written words, and the others are either blank or have stitched artwork, or what seems to be paper torn to make the images. I’m not sure, though, as I can only find references to the stitchery artists, and they are named in the back of the book.
Things get more complicated after you learn this. Of course they do. It’s a Danielewski. It wouldn’t be his work if things were simple. Because he gets pretentious and precious, and has to make you work to fully understand his work. It’s a fault, but also one of their strengths: if you can stomach the preciousness, the pretentiousness, if you can work through those books, they are completely and utterly worthwhile. This, for example, is horror story. And a fable for adults. And a piece of art. I don’t even know where to start with this.
So let me start with the artistry. Not only is the story and the way it’s written a piece of art, but so is the book. The dust jacket is pretty simple: orange with bold, black text, and little dots on it. But if you open the dust jacket, it’s all complex stitch work. This book cover mirrors the story instead; it’s first glance simplicity hides something much thornier to work through underneath. Other than the obvious artwork of the stitch work, the way it’s bound is beautiful; you see nothing, and then your glance is suddenly drawn to the red thread binding this book together. It’s pretty glaringly colorful against the stark white pages. Or the way that there are five narrators - more on this later - and each one has quotation marks in different colors. Colors are one of the themes in this novel, and it it’s absolutely lovely.
I can’t talk about the art without mentioning narrative, though. Danielewski loves playing with narrative, and he does so brilliantly here. Most of the pages have one page of written words, and the second page blank. Or with images. But sometimes those images sneak onto the first page. They even go so far as to worm their way into the narrative of the story, stitches breaking up the sentences - or even words. Danielewski slyly tells you that he’s throwing the rules of narrative out the window, and he does so with a sense of playfulness, one that makes its way into the written words. Words are misspelled, created, and even changed. The Valley of Salt becomes the valley assault later on in the meta narrative. (There is a story that bookends the Story Teller’s story in the middle.)
And for some reason this touched me; I looked at his playfulness, the seriousness with which he toyed with all the standards, and how he mixed that solemnity and sense of wonderment, and I very nearly burst into tears. This moved me. Very much so. Because it’s so slim, so simple, and yet is so dense.
I wanted to make this longer, but words simply don’t do my love for, and of, this book justice.