Tag Archive: Books


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.

 

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Travis Mohrman has written a novel in two parts in the oral tradition of Mark Twain.  The internal voice follows the cadence of speech used in telling tales around a campfire. Breaks in narration are solid and you can almost hear children saying, “No, tell us more! Pleeeeez?”

17231392The author describes life, both literally and figuratively, living on the edge of an ancient civilization, ravaged by some undefined apocalypse.   Tiny enclaves struggle to survive in a world still tainted by man’s fatal indiscretion.  This is the story of one man’s journey of discovery.

Three themes emerge in Down The Path and Further Down the Path.  There is an initial examination of self-reliance and cooperation.  It is necessary for Cooper to traverse the country relying solely on his ability to compete with nature.  Upon his arrival at the village, he sees how cooperation among a community’s members leads to something more important than survival alone.

His own people destroyed their own autonomy by making everything a communal mandate.  People were required to fish or grow crops for the use of everyone with little sense of satisfaction or reward.  Children were raised separate from their families instilling no sense of the kinship that leads toward a larger sense of belonging.  They had become a group of individuals doing just enough to benefit from the efforts of others.

17730690A second, related, theme is the destructive nature of living in an urbanized environment.  Cooper’s people had enclosed themselves in boxes, isolating themselves and poisoning themselves through mankind’s earlier misdeeds.  Although unaware of the dangers, they were hastening their own demise.

The village is seen as an open, organic space.   As a community, they build houses and maintain the village.  Families raise their own vegetables and their own children.  Individuals choose their own vocation as their investment in society.

Finally, we see the peril of technology.   Technology destroyed the environment hundreds of years earlier.  Mankind is only beginning to recover from the blow.  Cooper’s home, while a completely urbanized society, displays no level of technological development.   Meanwhile, the village has mastered many aspects of technology and is developing more for the benefit of the community.   The people of the village view technology as a tool to better their circumstances, not as a lever for greater power, nor as a safety net to protect against failure.

The discovery of the mysterious bunker highlights the question of technology.  Cooper is enamored of everything he sees.  He accepts the benefits of the bunker without questioning its provenance.  Handro questions everything about the place.  Who gains from their presence and what this benevolence will cost.  While he and Cooper share a desire for all good things, he wants to know where they come from and why.

My one difficulty is the lack of human conflict.  Mankind has managed to blow itself up once, or we wouldn’t be here.  In the second book we see that not all mankind has gained insight from the initial catastrophe.  Humans by nature are self-serving.  Strong personalities will always struggle to have their ideas voiced and adopted.  Not all confrontation can be avoided by retreating into the forest.

Those who are suspicious of their own are more suspicious of outsiders and will maintain and protect their power.  There is sufficient chance that confrontation will arise during Cooper’s multiple trips to and from the village.  The opportunity for friction also exists between Handro and Cooper as they wait out winter near the mysterious bunker.

Opportunities exist within village life for disagreement and dissension.  Even in as bucolic a setting as the village, nothing is ever so simple as one person saying this is the right thing to do, and having all who oppose simply lay down their objections and go along.  People disagree.  Shouting is sometimes involved.  Hard decisions frequently make for strong opinions, whether its agreeing now is the time for Cooper to return and rescue his community, or the time for others to mount a rescue in the midst of one of the harshest winters to be remembered.

Down the Path and Further Down the Path are  fine efforts.  I look forward to hearing more of Handro, and also more about the mysterious bunker.

When I run I have a tendency to write in my head.  Most of my book reviews have started on a run (including this one) and have been smoothed, and folded and pressed into what I actually want to say later when I have a delete key handy.  In December we got 36 inches of snow and I observed that running outside was over until March.  Shortly after that we got another 24 inches, and then another 18, followed by one pitiful little 8 inch storm.  Pathetic really, but it did manage to cover all the ice that at one time had been snow, then melt, then ice, more snow, more ice, more melt…you get the idea. It wasn’t until March that the roads were clear enough to run on.

In the meantime, I joined a gym, ran on the treadmill and read, used the stationary cycles and read. I read on the bus, I read on the train. I read in the car on the way to Maine.  Since December, I’ve read close to 50 books.  Don’t misunderstand, some weren’t very long (Where the Wild Things Are), and some weren’t very taxing (Artemis Fowl and just about everything). There’s no good place to start reviewing.  I’m in the process of finishing the fourth and final book in a series which I’m not going to try and review without having reviewed the others.

To some extent I kind of felt like writing reviews was pointless, but I’ve met some new people and some early “listeners” (readers read books, they don’t read me), have pointed out that maybe more people are interested than I know.   Frankly, I like to write them.  I have a couple of rules that come from  a previous life.  They go like this, you can’t do any book justice in fewer than 200 words and if you can’t say it in 500 words, it shouldn’t be said.  Try not to get involved in spoilers, no one comes away happy.

There are notable exceptions.  The review of the Lucky Charms box being one.

Most of my reviews are posted as links on GoodReads, I am not sure if you can see them as I have my profile set to cloaking shield. You might click around over there if you’re interested.  So, having said that, I have some books I’ve almost finished, and I also have some social commitments that I have to address, and in between I’m going to squeeze in book reviews.

Oh. The other thing I usually post are Road Trip stories, and I have a Road Trip coming up at the end of this month…