My Experience Reading Only Revolutions
Reading a novel like Mark Danielewski’s Only Revolutions has been a real challenge for me. Identifying patterns within a book outside the shallow scope of the storyline has been difficult with all the letters, colors, shapes, a chronology sidebar, flipping back and forth, etc.
When I first started reading the novel, I did it very, very inefficiently. I started with Sam’s narrative and read through 36 pages and did not understand a single thing. So I decided to slow down and reread the book how it was intended to be read, 8 pages of each narrative at a time. Hailey’s narrative was far easier for me to understand as far as plot details go. This can be mostly attributed to Hailey’s more modern vocabulary and slang, since the author began Hailey’s narrative in 1963. Sam’s narrative begins in 1863, and as someone who is unaccustomed to reading English as it was spoken 152 years ago, I was thoroughly lost. I decided to start with 8 pages of Hailey’s narrative, since hers was easier to understand. Hailey and Sam both seem to “translate” each other: if something is vague in one 8 page narrative, the other character can usually clear it up for me. I also found that as I continued to read, the storyline became easier to understand. I can’t decide whether it’s because I was getting used to Danielewski’s style of writing, or because the actual characters’ narratives were changing. At the beginning of each narrative, Sam and Hailey start very far apart. They are physically far apart, since the narratives start on opposite ends of the book, but they are also separate chronologically since their narratives begin 100 years apart. Their personalities also seemed to change as I progressed further in my reading. At the beginning of the novel, for both Hailey and Sam, the font is huge in comparison to the font size at the middle and end of the book. This may be relatable to the size of the characters’ egos in the first few chapters. They boast about themselves and give themselves credit for being the most attractive, strongest, smartest, quickest, etc., while claiming that other characters are weaker, slower, or incorrect more frequently than they are. Hailey and Sam both seem to be entirely self-absorbed, as most 16 year olds are, and often recount events in way that contradict each other. Once I hit the middle of the book, I was noticing that Hailey and Sam were starting to catch up with each other. In the middle chapter where the narratives flip, both green and gold O’s are seen together, which made me think that Sam and Hailey were both finally seeing each other for who they truly are. However, the narratives then start to diverge again. I wonder if the events that occurred before the middle of the book were bringing Sam and Hailey together, and the events following the middle of the book are taking them back apart. Or perhaps they start to lose their own egos or identities because they are now simply “US.”
Flash searing lime to wide
I kept seeing this phrase in the beginning of the novel and I could never figure out what it meant, so I flipped back through the book to try and make some connections.
On page 8 in Sam’s narrative “Flash follows, searing lime to wide” appears. If you flip that page upside down to Hailey’s narrative on page 353, you can see the word ThuuUUUuUuUUUUUnder. Lightning occurs before the thunder, and the closer you are, the sooner you hear the sound. Perhaps since page 8 is the beginning of the book and page 353 is the end of the book, and each is for the opposite narrator, Sam and Hailey are far apart. Or, perhaps, they are close together since the words appear on the same physical page. This thunder/lightning phrase also appears on Sam’s page 353 and Hailey’s page 8, and again on each character’s page 65/296. Curiously, on the pages parallel to the mention of “flash searing lime to wide,” the other narrator notes a sudden, chilling, dangerous Wind. Wind, Lightning, and Thunder are all properties of a storm. Page 8 is when the characters meet and the “storm” that is this crazy novel begins. Page 65 is when The Creep starts causing another “storm” for Sam and Hailey. These parallel occurrence of the phrase made sense. However, on page 36 of only Hailey, the lightning/thunder effect is seen again. I couldn’t indetify a major turning point within the plot of novel, so I looked in the chronology bar. Sure enough, June 26, 1965 was the page’s date, and Operation Rolling Thunder, a United States strategic bombing campaign that occurred in the Vietnam War, was included as a historical event.
I’m pretty proud of myself for figuring this all out, since I don’t usually investigate patterns or deeper meaning in novels by myself
Here is a video of the author talking to a class about HOW he wrote this novel, which I’m sure anyone who reads this novel would be interested hearing.
Also, here is an image of an overly dedicated fan.