In the book, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, there is a part where he uses strategic text layout and positioning to exemplify what is happening in the book. The part I am referring to takes place on page 289, and it is the first instance when Danielewski makes you turn the book upside down to read it, which makes the reader feel uncomfortable and awkward while reading the book. Furthermore, the words are written in a certain way to actually show what the words mean. I believe Danielewski wrote the way he did on page 289 to help the reader completely grasp the enormity of the situation that Navidson was in and how his life turned completely upside down at that instant.
On page 289, there are only eight words, but the meaning behind those words are extremely significant for Navidson at that time. There are three words in particular that are written in a way that help the reader understand what is going on. For instance, the first word is sinking, which is written at an approximately 45° angle downward towards the center binding of the book. This makes the reader look over the words going down into a dark cavity of the bookbinding and helps you visualize what Navidson is seeing and feeling at that moment. He is sinking away from a possible escape from the darkness, and heading down into more darkness, alone and scared.
The second word is stretching, which is literally stretching over three quarters of the page, and is using the same ‘s’ used in ‘is’. Danielewski used almost the whole page to show this because it was needed to help the reader understand how massive a stretch was happening. We find out later, with a quarter in free fall analysis, that the stairs have stretched an impossible distance that is greater than the earth’s circumference at the equator. This immense stretching of the stairs needed to be written in such a way that it would not be merely glanced over by the reader.
Along with the word stretching, expanding was written across the bottom of the page that took up about three quarters of the page’s width. The letters start out closer together, as they did with the word stretching, and are written farther apart by the end. These words are synonyms and are simply used in the same manner to further illustrate the changes taking place in the house.
I like to relate the house changing in such a drastic way, at the exact moment Navidson is the last man down in the bottom, to a passage earlier in the book on page 167 that reads, “Navidson, however, knows the stairs are finite and therefore has far less anxiety about the descent”. This passage refers to when Navidson is going in for the rescue mission and is able to reach the bottom of the stairs in a matter of minutes, but then on page 289 the stairs are now separating Navidson from his family and his own survival. All his anxiety is translated into the radical evolution of the stairs, and how they are now a seemingly insurmountable obstacle keeping him from escaping alive.
Along with his anxiety of escaping, he has also felt cut off and different from the outside world ever since he came back from Vietnam and started protesting the war. That is why he has felt more comfortable with dangerous situations than with living a normal life. I believe the house was able to sense Navidson’s true self, and even though he does not want to die down there, he knows if he makes it to the top of the stairs a part of him does die down there. He will never be able to keep his family and go on another adventure like this again. Which again relates to how Navidson’s life is life is flipped upside down at the same time the words on the page are flipped upside down. Furthermore, the words being written upside down show how this is such a drastic shift in the tone of the book for Navidson and how his plans went from a smooth escape to an impossible survival mission all in an instant.
In the end, Danielewski is able to use the placement of words, and letters to better exemplify what is going on in the novel. It helps the reader imagine the dramatic shifts in the book, with a certain amount of magnitude given to particular words positioning.