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Only Revolutions
Only Revolutions
by Mark Z. Danielewski
Edition: Hardcover

23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A light read?, 13 Sept. 2006
This review is from: Only Revolutions (Hardcover)
Readers who braved Danielewski's debut, the ludically labyrinthine House of Leaves, will find the author mapping similarly unfamiliar territory in his second novel. Danielewski has abandoned some of the more heavy-handed authorial games that weighted down his first novel, and this book has none of the dense intertextuality and inky digressiveness that covered so many pages there; but he has retained the spirit of playful inventiveness, and a careful attention to the potential of the printed form. Only Revolutions is an agile performance, a virtuoso display of the author's considerable writerly flair.

And it is the author's agility that impresses most. Constraints liberate, as every poet knows, and Danielewski here imposes on his writing an almost Oulipean set of constraints that generate a proliferation of words: puns, neologisms, rhymes, respond to one another in sing-song exchanges. Each chunk of text is composed of exactly 90 words, and the two opposing sides of the narrative ('Sam' and 'Hailey') sound each other out in a rolling mass of echoes, distortions and blends. Words waltz around one another, flirtatiously, as lovers sing amoebean exchanges, the one modulating to the tune of the other.

The prose skips along lightly, measuring out the numbers and nodding along to scattered rhymes. Sometimes the idiosyncrasies of style can seem enamoured of the sound of their own voice, but never quite to the point of obscurity.

Other aspects of the novel are less successful. The ticker of historical events covering two centuries, from 1863 on the one side (the putative beginning for Sam's narrative) and from 1963 on the other (where Hailey's story might take its starting point), makes up the numbers well enough, but the game is not really integrated into the reading experience.

The dos-a-dos format, with each of the two narratives printed on the flip-side of the other's page, means that the reader is compelled to read the two sides not in parallel lines but in antipodean arcs. The two sides give each other bias, rolling the narrative down the slope of a mountain, its impetus wheeling it along, around, and back up again. There are slight off-settings in the intricate patterns of parallelism, and teasing out their subtleties will often give pause to the attentive reader.

House of Leaves was something of a curate's egg; Only Revolutions is more accomplished, more writerly, and ultimately more satisfying.
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