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Topic: Fiction 11:22 am EDT, Sep 23, 2006

Mark Danielewski (House of Leaves, recommended here recently) has a new book, Only Revolutions, which the Oregonian calls "a palindrome of a book." Fans of Idees Fortes in the first year of Wired Magazine may be inclined to check this out. (Remember Mind Grenades?) The new book has earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus; see below.

This week, the New Yorker briefly notes the book release:

In his new novel, Danielewski is up to his old tricks -- multicolored and upside-down text -- and some flabbergasting new ones, including a double-ended structure that obliges the reader to flip the book every eight pages. (Two place-holding ribbons are provided.) The plot involves a pair of teen-agers, Sam and Hailey, who narrate alternating accounts of a freewheeling adventure through America.

Earlier this month, the LA Times profiled Danielewski:

Whereas "House of Leaves" was a fantastical Borges-via-M.C. Escher riff on everything from cutting-edge literary theory to the rhythms of L.A. nightlife and failing marriages, at heart the new novel is quite a traditional American tale — boy meets girl, they fall desperately in love, they hit the highway. Granted, "Revolutions' " 16-year-old heroes, Sam and Hailey, time-travel through 50 years of world history, conjure automobiles from thin air and wisecrack with a century's worth of obscure teenage slang.

In Psychedelic Love, they also reviewed the new book earlier this month, calling it "a dizzying, psychedelic he said-she said." The review wraps up:

"Only Revolutions" will likely infuriate traditionalists, who (like one friend of mine) might well call it "ejaculations of ink on paper." But it's also a quintessential novel of our time, embodying, as it does, art / technology / literature / design and the spirit of experimentation.

Whether or not you go for this kind of thing, "Only Revolutions" should be paid attention to, if only because of how it embraces and utilizes new technology and how, in turn, that technology has shaped it.

Amazon has this to say:

Mark Danielewski's first novel House of Leaves is a cult-favorite -- experimental horror fiction in a gorgeous (and newly remastered) full-color package. His new book Only Revolutions takes the experiment 10 steps further in a story about teenage lovers Hailey and Sam: the book is printed on two sides -- one side tells the story from Hailey's point of view, flip it over and you get Sam's side (literally). We caught a glimpse inside the mind-bending new novel -- take a look for yourself below.

Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review:

A pastiche of Joyce and Beckett, with heapings of Derrida's Glas and Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 thrown in for good measure, Danielewski's follow-up to House of Leaves is a similarly dizzying tour of the modernist and postmodernist heights—and a similarly impressive tour de force. It comprises two monologues, one by Sam and one by Hailey, both "Allmighty sixteen and freeeeee," each narrating the same road trip, or set of neo-globo-revolutionary events—or a revolution's end: "Everyone loves the Dream but I kill it." Figuring out what's happening is a big part of reading the book. The verse-riffs narrations, endlessly alliterative and punning (like Joyce) and playfully, bleakly existential (like Beckett), begin at opposite ends of the book, upside down from one another, with each page divided and shared. Each gets 180 words per page, but in type that gets smaller as they get closer to their ends (Glas was more haphazard), so they each gets exactly half a page only at the midway point of the book: page 180—or half of a revolution of 360 degrees. A time line of world events, from November 22, 1863 ("the abolition of slavery"), to January 19, 2063 (blank, like everything from January 18, 2006, on), runs down the side of every page. The page numbers, when riffled flip-book style, revolve. The book's design is a marvel, and as a feat of Pynchonesque puzzlebookdom, it's magnificent. The book's difficulty, though, carries a self-consciousness that Joyce & Co. decidedly lack, and the jury will be out on whether the tricks are of the for-art's-sake variety or more like a terrific video game.

Booklist summarizes thusly:

With a Jack Kerouac-like reverence for the open road and a Dr. Seuss-like feel for wordplay, Danielewski tells an epic love story as the two teens travel across time, from the Civil War to the year 2063, in vehicles ranging from a Model T to a Mustang.

But they caution that some readers may find it "too interactive for their taste."

Kirkus also gives it a starred review:

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.


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