Category: Horror

There are no ghosts here.  There is only the house.  Therein lies the tale.

House of LeaveI’m not sure why I was under the impression that this was a horror novel.  It doesn’t try to be horror in the traditional sense.  When the climactic moments of the story occur halfway through, you stop thinking about the story and start thinking about the story, and the story fills me with questions.  Let’s talk about the story within the story shall we?

Meet Johnny Truant.  He has a story to tell, but how much do you say about this story before you address whether it’s real or it’s Johnny ‘s fabrication?  If you decide the story is a figment of Johnny’s imagination, how do you reconcile the intricacies of detail including footnotes, appendices, exhibits?  Can a psychotic break produce such a finely tuned “reality”?  Is it possible that some of it is real and some of it is Johnny?

Meet Will Navidson. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist. He has a house. His house has a yawning, chasm of an abyss in it.  This abyss swallows all light, all hope, all sanity. The abyss is nothing and consumes everything within it’s reach. It grows greater every moment, every day they remain.  Navidson records every single minute of what transpires.  Johnny tells us all about it.

Meet Zampano`.  He has spent years collecting the story of Will Navidson. He has detailed the events of the house.  He catalogs all the ‘details’ of the public response, the academic papers, the film critics’ reviews of Navidson’s ‘documentary’.  But Navidson hasn’t created a documentary, which implies evidence or proof of something.  He has simply recorded in the way he knew best, the events surrounding his house and the abyss within it.   Zampano` puts together all the details of the story of the house.  And Johnny tells the story …of Navidson.

Is Johnny having a psychotic break?  Has he invented an elaborate fiction about a house and a family and a gaping hole in reality?  It’s enough to understand that Johnny has his own issues, and as his story progresses, and here we’re referring to Johnny’s story and not the story Johnny is telling, we see his own gaping hole.  His childhood is littered with physical and emotional trauma.  His story illuminates the darkness he hides from himself.  He describes how his apartment continues to shrink around him, how his abyss continues to consume him and his efforts to keep that nothingness at bay.

Which is it? Johnny tells the story of Will Navidson’s house as discovered by Zampano` or Johnny spins a tale of darkness and obsession.  If  Navidson (and Zampano`) truly exist, why does Johnny include letters from his mother, describing her descent into schizophrenia, yet leaves other details, frequently alluded to, aside?

If we go with the psychotic break theory, and Navidson/Zampano’ are Johnny’s psychotic construct… what’s the deal with the footnotes and other academic detritus?  It almost sounds like the transcript of multiple visits to an “in-house” psychiatrist. “…You think I’m crazy? …well, let me tell a tale or two for you.”

The whole house thing…  Johnny thinks it all happened.  Doesn’t he?

What does it mean to be consumed by nothing?

 House of LeavesMark Z. Danielewski

My thanks to Eric and Cory.



He had me at “like a gang of schoolyard bullies…”


“Let me tell you a little story…we’re all going to die.”

Finally, we have an author with enough imagination to label his victims something other than “zombies” and to create a virus with a full spectrum of symptoms.  Not only has Artie Cabrera envisioned a world where Deviants roam the borough of Queens, he has the audacity to provide an intriguing and plausible origin for our post-apocalyptic future.

The Journals of Charles Dudley and Side Effects chronicle the aftermath of the release of a mysterious virus.  At least that’s what Charles Dudley can determine as he wanders through the wreckage of his old neighborhood.

Artie1We start with Charlie burying the remains of his best friend in a guitar case, and hosing the rest of him into the sewer.  He can’t believe he could ever do something so revulsive, and yet every day brings some new debasement, some new degradation that must be faced unflinchingly.  And yet, every day Charlie does what’s necessary to survive then berates himself for becoming a monster.  He learns he must assess his life in terms of today and tomorrow; yesterday has nothing to do with it.

Cabrera is slick, creating a narrative that exists solely in the mind of our hero.  Charlie’s journal comes complete with snarky side comments, and the wishful elaboration of details.  He tells two tales:  the nasty, ugly, gory struggle to survive the day, and the nasty, ugly, gory struggle to survive childhood.

As Charlie comes to terms with his surroundings, he begins to reflect on life before.  Life is shitty, and Charlie is brutally honest about the details.  His story is both stark and vivid, a man as broken as the world outside.  His life has been defined by his father and as he contemplates his upbringing, he begins to realize how angry his father was, how angry he is.  The question:  does he know how much like his father he has become?

Cabrera captures the internal voice. You know that voice in your head every morning, grumbling on the way to work.  This is not the voice of the objective observer. It is a running commentary on everything you see, everything you hear, taste, touch and smell.  It is a tangle between the calm recitation of fact and the strangled half-finished thought. Cabrera’s writing is taut, funny and sarcastic. He makes Dudley’s observations into shards of glass reflecting the decay around him.

I’m not sure why Side Effects was published after I’m Not Dead.  Its random back references to events in I’m Not Dead would be the perfect lead in to Charles Dudley’s journals.  Side Effects will suck the reader in, offering one last gasp before descending into chaos.

An Extra Goody