Mark Z. Danielewski’s first book – 2000’s “House of Leaves” – was a schizophrenic and endlessly surprising post-modern monster piece. Chief among its successes was its use of bizarrely formatted typography to draw the reader into its deep and often confusing narrative, and sometimes even requiring the reader to rotate the book in order to read certain passages.
As a follow-up, “Only Revolutions” exudes the same inscrutable tendencies and love of gimmickry as its predecessor, but with a stronger overall focus and less comprehensible writing style. The book focuses on the exploits of two immortal teenagers named Sam and Hailey, as they race through history with reckless abandon, from the Civil War to the present and beyond. While this sounds like a fairly straightforward narrative, the execution is far more bizarre than any plot summary could possibly indicate.
The book itself is actually two books, with two front covers depending on which side of the book you start from. Starting from one end will take you through Sam’s half of the book, while the other end will take you through Hailey’s. A recommendation from the publisher on the inside flap suggests flipping the book over and reading the other half every eight pages, and the book comes with two felt bookmarks for place-keeping. On any given page, the top and bottom halves will be split and inverted, with both halves being pertinent only to the respective ends of the book. If you start the first page of Sam’s end of the book, for example, the last page of Hailey’s will be upside down on the bottom side of the same page. Every page represents a year in history with events from each year appearing in the side margin. It’s all very intriguing.
Unfortunately, I also found it to be remarkably unreadable. Stylistically, every page is written in surreal free-form poetry, accented with a host of perplexing literary tics including the boldfacing of animal names, included for reasons I can only barely fathom. The often-baffling writing is further compounded by the book’s dual structure, which further demolishes the story’s pacing and finesse by requiring the reader to stop every eight pages and flip the book over.
“House of Leaves” worked because Danielewski used postmodern literary techniques to further his narrative and develop pacing and structure that would otherwise never be possible. “Only Revolutions” strikes me as being just that – nothing more than Danielewski fruitlessly spinning his literary wheels.
Staff writer Jason Moses can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.