It's been a week since I began reading House of Leaves, and even though I've read well over 100 pages, I'm only on page 96. Just like the Navidsons' house, my reading experience is somehow smaller than the sum of its parts.
Of course, in my case there's a simple explanation: I've spent considerable time in the back of the book, paging through the exhibits and appendices, eager to add to my growing understanding of the house and the men (Zampano and Truant) who are writing about it.
My favorite part so far has been the letters Johnny Truant's mother writes to him from a mental institution. Not only do they gradually explain some mysteries of his childhood (how did he get the burn scars on his arms? Because even he admits the story he tells women in bars is entirely fabricated), but they also serve as a creepy foray into a deranged and deteriorating mind.
The letter she writes to him in code, out of paranoia that the attendants and director at the institution are reading and screening her mail, was particularly fun. I grabbed a pencil and jotted the letters into the margins, feeling like Ralphie in A Christmas Story as he gleefully transcribes a coded message from the Little Orphan Annie radio program. Of course, for me the payoff was better than an Ovaltine advertisement. It's easy to see how a relentless series of foster homes and his mother's desperate missives from the hospital combine to make Johnny into the confused, impressionable guy he is.
I will admit that the constant interruption of footnotes occasionally derailed my reading rhythm. It's hard to settle into either the Navidsons' story or Johnny's when they're continuously overlapping at odd moments.
It occurred to me, though, that lots of books use alternating perspectives, with one chapter from one character's point of view and the next from another's. Sometimes authors will even juxtapose two totally different storylines, with the connection between them only apparent at the end. The difference in House of Leaves is that instead of using chapter breaks, a structure we're familiar with, Danielewski uses footnotes. Thus it feels jarring when Johnny interrupts the flow with lengthy digressions, especially when those digressions dissolve into incomprehensible rambling, as they often do.
As long as I pick up the book in the right (read: patient) mood, I enjoy reading House of Leaves. With over 400 pages to go (not including the end resource material), I'm interested to see where the story goes next.
Wonder what the exploration crew will find at the bottom of that staircase?