Although Only Revolutions contains a story of sorts—a road narrative told through the Joycean monologues of Sam and Hailey, "Allmighty sixteen and freeeeee"—the book’s real power comes from its design: the characters’ ruminations start at opposite ends of the book and work their way toward the middle. All told, the stories about these two teens’ mythic travels across time add up to 360 pages (or, seen another way, as many degrees—one complete "revolution"). A time line that begins during the Civil War and ends in 2063 runs in the margins. When shuffled through quickly like an old flip-book cartoon, the page numbers revolve. Confused? As it should be.
Pantheon. 384 pages. $26. ISBN: 0375421769
"To appreciate a novel as meticulously crafted as this, [Only Revolutions] needs to be studied, its patterns and symbolism deciphered, its historical cross-references pondered. It’s certainly one of the great road novels, joining that dusty convoy stretching from Petronius’s Satyricon through Cervantes’s Don Quixote to the late Gilbert Sorrentino’s The Sky Changes." Steven Moore
Los Angeles Times
"Because the author has spent more time on pacing and packaging than on the story, Only Revolutions, with its multiple entry points, is really about the reading experience. … Those who take it on as pleasure reading are advised to keep Post-its—and patience—handy." Deborah Vankin
Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Danielewski’s new novel, Only Revolutions, looks as if it will sate the hunger of his current fans and bring a new throng of nerdy MySpacers and literary thrill-seekers into the fold as well. … It has all the makings of a complete mess—and yet it coheres." Joel Turnipseed
"While the author could have played it safe by writing a sequel to House of Leaves, he instead veered in another direction, writing an alienating book that defies its audience to read it and then rewards those who do. Only Revolutions projects an air of self-confidence in its form and content and appears destined to become a classic or a curio depending on which direction its ride takes it." Richard Melo
"Danielewski clearly wants to push the boundaries of the novel even further with his latest, Only Revolutions, but he has done it with a smaller, less ambitious story. … Only Revolutions is, as its title promises, a true revolution—it wants to overthrow not just how we read, but what we read." John Freeman
Critics heap praise on Only Revolutions, Mark Danielewski’s second novel and a tour de force of writing that challenges readers’ assumptions about storytelling. Reviewers similarly lauded the author’s initial effort, House of Leaves (2000), which also questioned notions of traditional narrative. The author’s fiction is mentioned in some pretty heady company—stylistically, formally, and as part of the long tradition of the Great American Road Narrative—including the work of e. e. cummings, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov, Jack Kerouac, Thomas Pynchon, and even French theorist Jacques Derrida, among others. Groundbreaking stuff, though as Richard Melo points out, whether the book is "classic or curio" remains to be seen.
Cited by the Critics
The Sky Changes | Gilbert Sorrentino (1966): A man, his wife, their children, and his driver head west as the couple’s marriage nears its end. Following the group through a series of towns across America, this is an intimate, psychological novel about the disintegration of a relationship.