The daunting maze explored in Danielewski’s Borgesian first novel, House of Leaves (2000), only hinted at the depths to be plumbed in its intimidatingly innovative successor.
It’s a love story, road novel and paean to untrammeled freedom, presented in dual free-verse narratives spoken by Sam and Hailey, two 16-year-old vagabonds who embark on a mythic and allegorical journey across America, in a succession of variously acquired automobiles, during an expanding time period that stretches from the American Civil War to the immediate present. Rebels and malcontents, they repeatedly indulge in Whitmanesque, Rabelaisian arias (“I’m The World which / The Mountain descends from and / I laugh because it tickles”), while proclaiming their allegiance to nothing but each other (“Liberty and Love are one”), and eluding or battling characters emblematic of entrenched interests, convention and complacency (e.g., “Mad Robber Barons,” “Hoovercrats”). The publisher helpfully suggests reading eight pages of Sam’s story, then flipping the volume upside-down and reversing it, for eight pages in Hailey’s voice, until the two narratives meet in the middle of the book. Further complications arise from chronological enumerations of historical events on each page’s margins and versified comments on every page presented, upside-down, at the bottom of said page. Self-indulgence? Surely. But there’s a real story here, and a persuasive sense that the couple’s wild ride is a kind of creation myth that mirrors, as it presumes to explain, America’s unruly energies—as Sam and Hailey experience Hailey’s brief dalliance with a macho avatar of military, militant power (“The Creep”), an Ongoing Party in New Orleans, a farcical hospital stay following an apparent overdose and an escape to the heartland and a climactic encounter with “the peril pursuing US.” They’re Bonnie and Clyde, Tristan and Isolde, an X-rated Archie and Veronica and perhaps All in the Family’s embattled liberal couple Mike and Gloria.
You have to work at it, but it’s a trip well worth taking.