I have read reviews of House of Leaves and seen lists that name it, “the scariest
book they have ever read”. The last book I can remember reading that legitimately scared me, or at the least creeped me out, was probably the Goosebumps series from R.L. Stine. However, while reading House of Leaves there was a point where I was struck by a feeling that wasn’t fear, but horror. I was shocked by what I discovered in Johnny’s letters from his mother that she composed from her mental institution.
Her letters become increasingly manic over time and as I read them I anticipated that it would only be a matter of time before she had a complete mental breakdown. Right before the breakdown occurred, she wrote a letter that the reader has to decode by using the first letters of each word to spell out a message. I will not say what the letter revealed because I do not know in what order everyone else has decided to read the novel in. The tedious process of discovery directly added to the experience and it was a clever way to both show his mother’s state of mind while at the same time horrifying the reader.
The letters that are found in the Appendix have been my favorite part of the book this far because by understanding the mother’s propensity to mental issues Johnny Truant’s story can be explained and understood a little bit more. Even though the letters clarify Truant’s narration, they actually are detrimental to his credibility. The reader sees how convinced Johnny’s mother is of the validity of her complaints against the New Director, who turns out to be the same person who treated her so well in the past. After that, I definitely questioned everything I had just read that was from Johnny’s point-of-view. Strangely enough, Zampono’s writings become more legitimate and believable, especially because of the academic manner in which Zampono writes his narration.