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Only Revolutions: A Novel [Paperback]

Mark Z. Danielewski
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 10 2007
Sam:
They were with us before Romeo & Juliet. And long after too. Because they’re forever around. Or so both claim, carolling gleefully:

We’re allways sixteen.

Sam & Hailey, powered by an ever-rotating fleet of cars, from Model T to Lincoln Continental, career from the Civil War to the Cold War, barrelling down through the Appalachians, up the Mississippi River, across the Badlands, finally cutting a nation in half as they try to outrace History itself.

By turns beguiling and gripping, finally worldwrecking, Only Revolutions is unlike anything ever published before, a remarkable feat of heart and intellect, moving us with the journey of two kids, perpetually of summer, perpetually sixteen, who give up everything except each other.

Hailey:
They were with us before Tristan & Isolde. And long after too. Because they’re forever around. Or so both claim, gleefully carolling:

We’re allways sixteen.

Hailey & Sam, powered by an ever-rotating fleet of cars, from Shelby Mustang to Sumover Linx, careen from the Civil Rights Movement to the Iraq War, tearing down to New Orleans, up the Mississippi River, across Montana, finally cutting a nation in half as they try to outrace History itself.

By turns enticing and exhilarating, finally breathtaking, Only Revolutions is unlike anything ever conceived before, a remarkable feat of heart and intellect, moving us with the journey of two kids, perpetually of summer, perpetually sixteen, who give up everything except each other.

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From Publishers Weekly

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. (Sept. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

The second novel from cult author Danielewski (House of Leaves, 2000) consists of the dual free-verse narratives of 16-year-old Hailey and Sam, which are meant to be read in tandem; eight pages of Hailey's story are to be read first, then the volume needs to be flipped upside down and read in reverse for Sam's story, until the two narratives meet in the middle. 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. Though outside forces threaten to undermine them, the two remain forever 16 and madly in love. Danielewski may free his young lovers from narrative constraints, but his readers are not so lucky--many will find the neck-craning and book-turning to be too interactive for their taste. Still, this creative paean to the velocity of young lovers and the vibrancy of American culture is sure to wow the experimental-fiction camp. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Only revolving Feb. 22 2007
By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Mark Z. Danielewski stunned readers with his debut, "House of Leaves," a bizarre down-the-rabbit-hole tale of madness, surreality and a house where space is unending.

Now six years later, Danielewski has produced his follow-up -- the equally strange, scintillating road-trip novel "Only Revolutions." The format is mind-bending, the characters equally strange -- and Danielewski hasn't lost his touch for the compelling, poignant, the postmodern, and the post-weird.

Hailey and Sam are a pair of eternal teenagers, apparently untouched by time either physically or psychologically ("We're always sixteen!"). They careen through much of American history -- past and present -- in a changing fleet of cars, touching down in various important places and times.

But though they have no responsibilities, Hailey and Sam are not free of cares. As they run through the US, they seem to be enmeshed in the goings-on of wars, parties, exploration and social revolution (the Civil War). Will they escape the oppressive THEM pursuing them, or lose what is most important to them?

For a cult author, there's always a question about whether they can stay fresh and cutting-edge. Fortunately, Danielewski has outrun that particular concern. "Only Revolutions" is written in the same surreal freestyle as "House of Leaves," but the author never forgets to include the story as well.

And as the Escherian plot unwinds ("unfolds" just doesn't fit), it becomes obvious that this is actually two stories: a love story, and a sort of American allegory. They are rebels and free spirits, running up against bizarre characters -- like the multi-military Creep -- who seem symbolic of the nastier sides of our society. Hailey and Sam are the ones who represent the better side of the country.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not for me July 12 2008
Format:Paperback
To put it mildly, this is a difficult book. As a follow up to House of Leaves, I wasn't surprised at the unique design and writing style. And since HoL had so much hidden beneath the surface for those who took the time to dig for it, I have to assume that this book has more to it than just nonsensical free-verse poetry and unconventional typography. Unfortunately, I'll never know for sure because, to be completely honest, I gave up.

Part of House of Leaves' brilliance is Danielewski's ability to shift back and forth between very different writing styles. That's why when I began reading Only Revolutions, I took the writing style in stride. After reading a few pages though, it dawned on me that maybe the whole thing was written like this. After scanning the rest of the book I realized that it was indeed written that way all the way through. That was a disappointing moment. The book is now taking up space on my shelf.

Honestly I'm sure some people will enjoy this book. Many will not be able to get through five pages. All I can say is READ some of it before you purchase this book. I wish I had.

If you've never read Danielewski, go get House of Leaves immediately. It's awesome. I hope his next one isn't like this.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  74 reviews
116 of 123 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Danielewski's Gadsby June 19 2007
By doomsdayer520 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Old editions of the Guinness Book of World Records often noted a weird achievement in writing - a novel called "Gadsby" (Earnest V. Wright, 1939) that does not contain the letter E. This is known as a lipogram, or a work in which the writing is constrained by an enforced method. But would anyone remember "Gadsby" for its story? Or is that supposedly unique method its only memorable quality? This kind of incredulous infamy is likely to be the fate of this tome from Danielewski. Imagine that you have spent years working on your personal manifesto, and you expect everyone to be as excited about it as you are. But then you're devastated to find that your labor of love is only appreciated by half the people who read it, while the other half just DON'T GET IT or don't find your work to be as important as you think it is. Half of the reviews here offer ecstatic praise for Danielewski's unique visual and semantic methods of writing. But don't assume that the negative reviewers here simply DON'T GET IT. These are people who, like me, probably loved (and GOT) Danielewski's masterful "House of Leaves." But this book is much less likeable and is nowhere near as rewarding. The negative reviewers who appear that they DON'T GET IT actually have been given no reason to try to get it.

That's because this story accomplishes very little, other than the creative non-linear methods. Of course, Danielewski has concocted a storytelling schema that is truly unique, and I can appreciate the mechanical focus on the numbers 180 and 360, and the running theme of revolutions in the book's graphical layout. You may even dig the main premise about the literally timeless and ageless road trip, while Danielewski's creative language constructions and period slang can be quite likeable. But where does this story go beyond its contribution to the book's visual and mechanical methods? Hence, this will likely be remembered as Danielewski's Gadsby - a book that's unique for reasons other than a memorable story, empathetic characters, or insightful themes. Plus, you really have to wonder about a book in which the publisher has to suggest HOW to read it. Most of us would rather spend our time on books where the publisher doesn't have to tell you to simply start on page 1 and read forward to the end. [~doomsdayer520~]
94 of 114 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Only revolving Sept. 12 2006
By E. A Solinas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Mark Z. Danielewski stunned readers with his debut, "House of Leaves," a bizarre down-the-rabbit-hole tale of madness, surreality and a house where space is unending.

Now six years later, Danielewski has produced his follow-up -- the equally strange, scintillating road-trip novel "Only Revolutions." The format is mind-bending, the characters equally strange -- and Danielewski hasn't lost his touch for the compelling, poignant, the postmodern, and the post-weird.

Hailey and Sam are a pair of eternal teenagers, apparently untouched by time either physically or psychologically ("We're always sixteen!"). They careen through much of American history -- past and present -- in a changing fleet of cars, touching down in various important places and times.

But though they have no responsibilities, Hailey and Sam are not free of cares. As they run through the US, they seem to be enmeshed in the goings-on of wars, parties, exploration and social revolution (the Civil War). Will they escape the oppressive THEM pursuing them, or lose what is most important to them?

For a cult author, there's always a question about whether they can stay fresh and cutting-edge. Fortunately, Danielewski has outrun that particular concern. "Only Revolutions" is written in the same surreal freestyle as "House of Leaves," but the author never forgets to include the story as well.

And as the Escherian plot unwinds ("unfolds" just doesn't fit), it becomes obvious that this is actually two stories: a love story, and a sort of American allegory. They are rebels and free spirits, running up against bizarre characters -- like the multi-military Creep -- who seem symbolic of the nastier sides of our society. Hailey and Sam are the ones who represent the better side of the country.

Danielewski is still fascinated by places/people where time and space are warped. That includes the entire book -- every page. Each page has a scramble of quotes and text on its sides. There is vivid abstract poetry, blank pages (the future), geometric plotting, shrinking pages, mysterious side-notes submitted by Danielewski's fans...

... and oh yeah, you can flip the book upside down and read the two different "sides" of the story. One is Hailey, one is Sam. They are compared to legendary lovers like Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, but that's not too far off. Their love evolves as they do, and by the end they are more endearing if less vibrant than at the start of their story.

"Only Revolutions" is both a work of postmodern art and an endearing novel, and while it's hard work to follow Hailey and Sam to the end of their journey, it's worth the trip. Absolutely brilliant.
76 of 96 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I had...such high hopes Dec 1 2006
By Travis Pelt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Mark, did you start to believe your own hype? Did you feel compelled to venture further out than House of Leaves? Did you just start with a really bad idea and stay the course?

I've come to feel Only Revulsion for this beast.

I can't tell what happened here, but this is book is a mess. I honestly couldn't finish this thing because I felt that, somewhere, Danielewski was having a laugh at his readers' expense. Lemme give you some background.

Danielewski wrote House of Leaves, one of the most complex and multi-layered novels I've read. And even better, it had a unique and well spun tale in it (several infact, like Russian Dolls, but the House is the main one.) I loved this book. The author even made the book's physical layout as complex and involoved as the story was. At first, the House's layout looked like a gimmick, but no; it actually enhanced th quality of the tale.

Since then he's published a spin off novel and now.... this beast.

As I said, the reason the layout in House of Leaves was not a gimmick is because it actually enhanced the tale. In this book, you have sprawling chaos up one side of the page and down the other, literaly. The tale... a sort of eternal love tale begins in this crazed stream of conciousness that is accented my enlarging and shifting fonts; when you finish with the point of view of one character, you flip the book over and begin reading from the other's perspective. The layout here is a gimmick.

It is a gimmick because not only does the layout fail to improve the text, it renders what is already Near Incomprehensible into A Damned Mess of Words.

I'm trying to find more to write but... look I'm sorry to write this but if you liked House of Leaves or enjoy a well wrought tale please back away from the Revolutions.

Why is it getting so many positive reviews? Dear reader, I have several theories. Maybe they were impressed by the layout. Maybe they had a brain seziure and now like this sorta verbal mess. My guess though is, much like myslef, they were truly won over by House of Leaves and try to redeem this mess as much as they can. I did my best to like this book too. But reality stepped in.

By the by, despite this book being a catastrophe of words, I'm still waiting and hoping for his next.

(And no Mark, even a soundtrack by Poe will not help this heap.)
30 of 38 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Approach with caution Oct. 10 2006
By Matthew - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I loved House of Leaves, its unconventionality, its layers. I could not stand this book. Make sure you understand this is a book of verse - a long narrative poem (and yes, it rhymes). I just could not get into it, the language annoyed me, the characters were not interesting to me. Was there a plot of some kind? It didn't work for me, which is really frustrating if you know what Danielewski is capable of.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Around and around in circles: a sorry follow up to House of Leaves Sept. 22 2007
By Christopher C. Tamigi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I loved "House of Leaves," I think it's really a masterpiece of experimental fiction, so I was excited when I heard that Danielewski had come out with a new novel. Likewise I wasn't put off by the experimental elements of the book: the duelling narratives written in either direction on each page, the list of historical tidbits from a given date.

But when you get past all these schticky elements there's not much to "Only Revolutions." Whereas "House of Leaves" had a fascinating story at its core and explored interesting themes, when you strip away all the gimicks "Only Revolutions" seems to be a prose poem about a love affair between two egomaniacal teenagers who drift apart and then find each other again and again (and who claim to have superhuman powers although I haven't found any evidence that this is actually the case) and which is set in no clear time or place.

I've tried a couple of times, but I couldn't for the life of me get into this story. I also found the stream-of-consciousness list of historical data on each page (+50% of which is stuff that I've never heard of before, and I was a history major) to be really annoying because I felt obligated to read through it even though it was really dry. In the end, I've just about written off this novel as unreadable.
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