Upon opening this novel, I immediately was confused as to how the heck I should even start reading this book. I had no idea which side was the front cover or which narrative to start reading first and once I reached that point, how do I continue reading? I looked at a few references online and I decided to read eight pages of the text, starting with Sam’s perspective, then flip to Hailey’s perspective and read eight pages, and then repeat.
From there, I was overwhelmed about the relationship between the dates and the historical events, and their relationship with the narratives. Do I read this as separate journal entries or diaries, or should I disregard the historical context and completely ignore the fact that there is a 100 year time difference between the two narratives? I was overwhelmed just by the absurdity of how to interpret the novel as a whole.
As I continued flipping back and forth through the book, I began to interpret the sections as four different stories that seem to mingle together. The two perspectives of Sam and Hailey represent two stories, while the two sets of historical events represented another two stories. Each piece of the puzzle appeared to coordinate and intertwine with the other to create a somewhat seamless transition. The subtleties that Mark Danielewski uses in his peculiar word choice, for example, creates a series of connections that almost slips past the reader unnoticed.
For example, Danielewski writes of a “Democractic HeeHaw” that took place on September 1, 1870 (Sam 9) and he vicariously uses the word again in Sam’s narrative writing “if my own heehawing turns to ache” (Sam 14). Danielewski takes the word even further in Hailey’s narrative on page 8:
“Clumzy Clutziod! **He Haws**.”
“My serenity wipes out his gall.”
“Go beg elsewhere, He Caws.“
Once overcoming the obstacle of how to read the text, you begin to see the incredible use of play-on words and puns that is evident throughout the book. Danielewski uses literary tools such as alliteration, internal rhyme, assonance and punctuation to craft the way in which he wants you to read the novel. The structure of the sentence and its formatting, for example, causes the reader to speed up or slow down, to stress certain words or skim past them. These devices are meant to create an interpretative experience for the reader.
The visual appeal of the text itself is a piece of art. The structure and coloring used in certain words creates a story of its own. For example, the inside binding of the book places words upside down and inverted to create an image of what looks like a flower or window. Here is an example that shows a combinations of words and line weights that are used to create an image. This is similar to what Danielewski uses in his novel.