Ever since I finished reading David Mitchell’s Slade House I was pretty interested to see what was the book that preceded it. So I picked up The Bone Clocks and while I can’t say I personally liked it, it wasn’t bad either.
As we tackled House of Leaves, it’s important to pay tribute to one of the best Romanian authors – Mircea Eliade – who spent decades researching and writing about the symbolism and the minute differences between the sacred and mundane. In his personal journal notes, he remarks:
“These thirty years, and more, that I’ve spent among exotic, barbaric, indomitable gods and goddesses, nourished on myths, obsessed by symbols, nursed and bewitched by so many images which have come down to me from those submerged worlds, today seem to me to be the stages of a long initiation. Each one of these divine figures, each of these myths or symbols, is connected to a danger that was confronted and overcome. How many times I was almost lost, gone astray in this labyrinth where I risked being killed… These were not only bits of knowledge acquired slowly and leisurely in books, but so many encounters, confrontations, and temptations. I realize perfectly well now all the dangers I skirted during this long quest, and, in the first place, the risk of forgetting that I had a goal… that I wanted to reach a “center”.”
The essential feature for Eliade is the theme of the camouflaging of the sacred into the profane, with various textual avatars and representations. The symbolic of the labyrinth is of major importance to Eliade’s writing. In fact, he considers that his life is placed, with all the successes and revelations, under the sign of the labyrinth, a sign that confers an organic character, coherence and integrative vocation to events that appear as neutral, random during a lifetime.
At the Gypsies was written in 1959 in Paris and published in 1963 in Novellas. It represents an allegory of death and passing on, the reality hiding a layer of supernatural and fantastic – like much of his works.
House of Leaves is the debut novel by American author Mark Z. Danielewski, published in March 2000 by Pantheon Books. A bestseller, it has been translated into a number of languages, and is followed by a companion piece, The Whalestoe Letters.
The format and structure of House of Leaves is unconventional, with unusual page layout and style, making it a prime example of ergodic literature. It contains copious footnotes, many of which contain footnotes themselves, including references to fictional books, films or articles. Some pages contain only a few words or lines of text, arranged in strange ways to mirror the events in the story, often creating both an agoraphobic and a claustrophobic effect. The novel is also distinctive for its multiple narrators, who interact with each other in elaborate and disorienting ways.
In the Tall Grass begins with a sister and brother who pull off to the side of the road after hearing a young boy crying for help from beyond the tall grass. Within minutes they are disoriented, in deeper than seems possible, and they’ve lost one another. The boy’s cries are more and more desperate. What follows is a terrifying, entertaining, and masterfully told tale, as only Stephen King can deliver.
There are other people lost in the tall grass (7ft high) – the boy’s dad and his mom and their screams and chuckles make the two siblings weary as they try to find them. The grass is like a maze – it does not flatten nor burn – and jumping high to get a position reference always shows different surroundings, even when jumping from the same spot.
The sister is heavily pregnant and while being attacked by the crazed dad, she falls and hits her baby bump hard, causing her to go into labor and deliver her baby as a stillborn.
Her brother meets the young boy who pulled them into the grass and sees him as he takes a bite from a dead crow. The boy tells him that there is a stone in the middle of the grass field that when hugged will show him the way out, but he will not want to get out anymore. They do go to the stone and it looks like something out of this world, that has been around for centuries and millenia. It features stick men dancing under the surface and it emits a low buzz and warm radiation that manages to “turn” the brother into a beast, much like the boy and his father.
Once he hugged the stone, he knows where his sister is and is able to find her quickly. In a disgusting turn of events, he takes her still born girl and then feeds on it, at the same time passing slices of its meat to the delirious mother.
He then takes his sister to the rock to turn her.
The book ends as an unsuspecting 60’s hippie group pulls by the side of the road to have a picknick and hear the screams of the boy and the man in the grass, shouting out that they are lost.
Overall, it was quite a good book. 67 pages of terror dealing with the mystery kept by a town, a tall labyrinth and the despair of being lost, not captured though to the real extent depicted in Stephen King’s book “The girl who loved Tom Gordon”.
I loved the depiction of hunger, slow loss of senses, the abandonment and regression into the animal nature inherent to all humans.
What I would have done different:
If you pull by the side of the road and you hear screams of someone lost in a tall grass, ask them to jump first so you get a glimpse of where they are so you know what direction to go into if you want to rescue them. If they can’t jump, tell them to make some continuous noise.
Do not go into a place where you can’t easily find your way out without a sort of a rope holding you by the middle and anchored into a safe spot.
If you are a villager in a dangerous area, surround the field with barbed wire and put warning signs around it.
If you are pregnant, do not venture into the unknown. Since they were two, the best course of action would have been for the sister to remain on the side of the road and wait for the police to show up and for the brother to look for the boy, tethered by a piece of string.
Also, if you are deep in the mud and feeling cold, break down the grass and braid it into a small mattress. You can sit on it and not get wet.
Also, don’t drink unfiltered water. Besides mud and worms, it can also contain bacteria that can give you bad dysenteria, causing dehydration by vomit and … you know, … number 2s.
Back to the book – it’s a good story – grab it, read it, tell your children.
About the Authors: Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. Among his most recent are Full Dark No Stars, Blockade Billy, Under the Dome, Just After Sunset, the Dark Tower novels, Cell, From a Buick 8, Everything’s Eventual, Hearts in Atlantis, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Lisey’s Story and Bag of Bones. His acclaimed nonfiction book, On Writing, was recently re-released in a tenth anniversary edition. King was the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and in 2007 he was inducted as a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Maine with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
Joe Hill is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Heart-Shaped Box and Horns and writes an ongoing comic book series, Locke & Key.