“I suddenly glimpsed my own father, a rare but oddly peaceful recollection, as if he actually approved of my play in the way he himself had always laughed and played, always laughing, surrendering to its ease, especially when he soared in great updrafts of light, burning off distant plateaus of bistre and sage, throwing him up like an angel, high above the red earth, deep into the sparkling blank, the tender sky that never once let him down, preserving his attachment to youth, propriety and kindness, his plane almost, but never quite, outracing his whoops of joy, trailing him in his sudden turn to the wind, followed then by a near vertical climb up to the angles of the sun” (36 Danielewski).
Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves has thus far felt more like an “experience” than any novel I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Complete with multiple fictitious narrators, terrifically dense supplemental material, and an ever-developing plot, most quotes that have puzzled me in the book have done so simply because it is hard to process the way in which all events recorded fit together and interact. The above quote, however, does not follow this same pattern of confusion. Also, the fact that the reader is informed that the writer of the passage, Johnny Truant, was under the influence of both drugs and alcohol during the experience described hardly prompts one to expect it to be different than his countless other passages, as he readily admits on the first page to using, “a pretty extensive list” (xi Danielewski).
No, what is jarring about this passage is the Truant narrator’s abrupt and marked change in writing style. Gone are the street-wise, almost hard-boiled detective-like musings of a tattoo-shop apprentice, replaced by the hallucinated visions of a Ginsberg-esque poet. Truant’s short sentences, often refreshing in contrast to the denser academic texts referenced in House of Leaves, have been traded in for horrifying, page long run-ons. This form seems to indicate to the reader the gravity of the investigation Truant has undertaken, in-turn drawing them in further to the overall story by echoing back to the book’s first pages, in which the reader is warned that the book will, “dismantle every assurance you ever lived by” (xxiii Danielewski). By startling the reader out of the assurance of a consistent narrator, perhaps Danielewski is attempting to bring them down to level of his book’s characters: unstable. However highly romanticized its language, it also seems as if the passage marks Johnny Truant’s admittance that perhaps part of the reason his investigation of Zampano’s writing has gotten out of control is a buried desire to regain a lost father figure.
Zampano’s death marked the departure of one of the few, maybe only, remaining father figure(s) he had, and the resulting obsessive search to bring Zampano “back to life” by piecing together his scribbled ramblings is shown here to have a taken a definite toll on Truant’s mental facilities. His real father is hallucinated as a god-like figure, one who, “soared in great updrafts of light” (36 Danielewski). Truant also reported him to have had the ability to, “vertical climb up to the angles of the sun” (36 Danielewski). Truant’s preceding passage also refers to the hallucination of his father, watching him snort lines of cocaine, drink alcohol, and engage in a multiple-partner sexual escapade, “as if he actually approved” of it (36 Danielewski). This passage also seems to allude to the fact that Johnny Truant does indeed have abandonment issues stemming from an absent father. His hallucination’s approving demeanor seems to stem from this absence, almost giving Truant permission to behave so recklessly in place of the guidance of an older male figure. The god-like qualities envisioned would further explain this: just as a god would have ultimate power to influence human beings, Truant’s father issues would be the ultimate underlying cause of his lifestyle choices. These lifestyle choices, in-turn, led indirectly to his discovery of Zampano’s writings, and his subsequent unraveling.