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Only Revolutions Teacher’s Guide

By Mark Z. Danielewski

Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski


The introduction, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Only Revolutions, Mark Danielewski’s riveting follow-up to his acclaimed first novel, House of Leaves.


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.

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.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Who are Sam & Hailey? Why and how are Sam & Hailey “allways sixteen”?

2. The narrative of Only Revolutions is written in first person present tense. Why do Sam & Hailey use present tense when telling their story? The dedication, “You were there,” is the only instance of second person past tense within the novel. What does this say about the reader? What does this say about the author? About Sam & Hailey? About the connection between the reader and Sam & Hailey?

3. Why are the names of the characters Hailey & Sam? Why is the main antagonist simply called THE CREEP? Why are “Them” never specifically referred to except in an ambiguous third person accusative plural personal pronoun?

4. Why does THE CREEP represent such a threat to Sam & Hailey? Does he have a part in one or both of their past lives? Why is The creep printed in purple? The dates in the History Sidelines are also printed in purple–do you find a connection between the historical events and THE CREEP? Is there a connection between the passing of time and THE CREEP?

5. Why does Hailey’s story begin in 1963? Why does Sam’s story begin in 1863? Do you find the novel to be "Chronologically Arranged,"as stated on the copyright page? How can they be experiencing the same events when their lives seem separated by such a span of time? Given that the chronology extends through a period of two hundred years while Sam & Hailey remain "allways sixteen," could they be considered immortal? Ghosts? If their timelessness is merely a claim, how does this impact the novel?

6. Sam is associated with animals, while Hailey is associated with plants. Why is Hailey associated with plants? Why is Sam associated with animals? Each character is shown speaking to their respective kingdoms at the beginning of the text, yet the animals and plants become silent near the end of the text. How does this fact connect to the outcome of each character’s story? What connections can be made between the flora and fauna presented and the characters’ geographical location? What connections can be made between the type of actions displayed by the animals/plants and the procession of seasons in the novel?

7. Both Sam’s & Hailey’s stories begin with a descent from The Mountain and end with an ascent back up The Mountain. What is the significance of The Mountain in Only Revolutions? What Mythological connections can be drawn between Sam & Hailey, their animals/plants, and The Mountain? What Religious connections? Historical? Ecological? Geological?

8. What is the significance of Sam’s Horse? What is the significance of Hailey’s Tree? What incident(s) led Hailey & Sam to begin traveling?

9. Why is Hailey without shoes? Why is she concerned about this? Why doesn’t Sam have a hat? Why is he concerned about this? Is either situation resolved?

10. Sex is an important theme in the book. How is the sexual relationship between Hailey & Sam portrayed? Why does Sam promise to "allways only come outside" (S/H 48.3)? Does this change? Why is Hailey unable to have orgasms? Is this resolved? When and how?

11. What is the significance of Honey throughout the novel? Why do they begin with twelve jars? Hailey is allergic to bees and is hospitalized for it, yet Sam, who seemed immune to bee stings at that point, takes on a similar reaction to bees at the end of Hailey’s story. What does this say about the nature of Sam & Hailey’s union at the "end" of the novel and how it has changed? Though bees represent a danger to both Sam & Hailey, Honey is used for many positive purposes by Hailey & Sam. In what ways is Honey used in Only Revolutions? Currency? Sustenance? An elixir? Given that Honey is a substance highly resistant to bacterial contamination and was often used for purposes of embalming (for its supposed "immortal" qualities), what can be implied by the fact that the only food Sam & Hailey are shown eating is Honey?

12. What is the significance of the "Leftwrist Twist" in Only Revolutions? Why does the stone or jewel of Hailey & Sam’s "Leftwrist Twist" constantly change? Does the quality of their jewelry reflect upon the events of the novel in which they appear? On the state of their union? The first mention of the Leftwrist Bracelets by either character is accompanied by a given valuation: "Priceless." How does this relate to the fact that the Leftwrist Twists are constantly changing?

13. Consider the models of the automobiles in respect to the given chronology found in the History Sideline of the page and the state of Sam & Hailey’s union. Why are the models of cars used by Sam & Hailey’s constantly changing? Sam & Hailey are never shown using the same model of automobile twice, what does this say about the nature of their vehicle?

14. Why do the names of the diner in St. Louis, and its manager and owner constantly change?

15. Can a connection be made between the appearance of the first person plural "US" and its use as the acronym of the United States in the History Sidelines? Why do Hailey & Sam capitalize both letters when using "US"? Can they be considered their own nation, their own "United States"? Does the phrase appearing on the copyright page, "The Democracy Of Two," relate to this? Can it be looked at as a critique of America? Is this historical book about adolescence or adolescence of a country? Is it political?

16. The first page of each character’s side has the sentence “Everyone loves the Dream but I kill it” (1.5-6). The last page of either side has the sentence “Everyone betrays the Dream but who cares for it?” (360.12-13). How does this concept of “the Dream” evolve throughout the novel? Do Hailey & Sam betray “the Dream”?

17. Similarly, the first page of Sam’s side contains the passage “I’ll devastate the World” (S 1.11), while Hailey’s contains the passage “I’ll destroy the World” (H 1.11). The last page of either side alters these statements, where each character admits, “I’ll destroy no World.” How does the concept of “the World” evolve throughout the novel? How do the concepts of “the World” and “the Dream” interact and affect each other? How do the characters’ relationship with the world change and why? How does the concept of themselves change? Are they less egotistical and more aware of the other?

18. What do Sam & Hailey mean when they say “We are the time” (243.16)? How can this statement be associated with the phrase “We are at once” (320.15)? How does this relate to the methods and themes of the novel?

19. On page 289 of either side, there appears the phrase “we’re bloodless.” In light of what we know about these characters, how can this be interpreted?

20. Why does Sam stop traffic as a gift to Hailey on page 299? For what occasion does he give her this gift? How does this connect with the themes of the book? What does Hailey give Sam?

21. At one point, Hailey & Sam refer to themselves as being valueless, and liken themselves to a man-made atrocity. Sam’s: “Because I’m without value. I’m the coming of every holocaust.” (348.1-2). Hailey’s: “Because I’m without worth. I’m the march of every genocide.” (348.1-2). How do these statements connect with the narrative at that point? What does this say about each character’s perspective of their union with the other at that point? What does this say about their perspectives of themselves?

22. In many ways, Only Revolutions is a pair of monologues from egocentric characters caught in the self-centeredness common of teenagers. How does this egocentrism appear? Sam & Hailey’s love for each other often overshadows their egocentrism. In what ways are they in symbiosis? Despite the egocentrism mentioned above, Hailey & Sam are sympathetic to each other and to the various forces that oppose them (the manager of the diner in St. Louis, “Them,” and even The creep). In which ways does this sympathy manifest?

23. The egocentrism of Sam & Hailey could be a cause for the difference in each character’s account. Given that no two eyewitness accounts of any incident ever completely agree, do the differences in Sam’s & Hailey’s accounts make the events seem more or less real?

24. Throughout the text, there are a number of misaligned letters, such as the “a” in “Dream” on each character’s first page. Is it significant that the only letters that appear misaligned are A, B, C, D, E, F, & G? With what are these letters commonly associated? Why are some set higher than the line of text in which they appear, and why are some set lower?

25. In an interview, Mark Z. Danielewski said of Only Revolutions that it is “already a movie.” In which ways could the book be considered a movie? Are there any elements of the book that resemble film or
filmmaking? Which movies does it recall? If Only Revolutions is a sort of movie, the dots at the top of certain pages (67/71, 139/143, 211/215, 283/287, 355/359) could be considered “cigarette burns” or reel-change warnings that appear in films. How does this reflect on the narrative of these pages? In which colors do the dots and circles appear, and why? In what ways are the dots appearing on page 359 of either side different from the others? What purpose do they serve that differs from the others?

26. There are many methods of textual arrangement that the author put into the writing of Only Revolutions, such as having 360 pages with 360 words per page printed in 36 lines. Also, the text from either side begins large, occupying the top two thirds of the page (22 lines), while the opposite character’s text fills the bottom third of the page in a much smaller size, and upside down. At the center of the novel, the text for both characters appears in the same size font. The first letter of each eight-page section is part of a continuing series spelling either H. A. I. L. E. Y. A. N. D. S. A. M. or S. A. M. A. N. D. H. A. I. L. E. Y., depending on which side you begin. How do they connect well with the themes of the work? Why do you think the author chose to structure the book in this way?

27. On the inside cover of each side of the book is printed a Concordance full of reversed words. However, besides “BEAUTY, BROOD, CHOOSE, DEVOTION, GRACE” printed within the black circles with the struck words “Found Once Once There”/”Found Once Once Here” ringing them, none of the words appear within the novel itself. What is the significance of those words, which do appear in the novel? Why is it called “The Now Here Found Concordance”? Why is its “title” struck out? The missing words are arranged by categories such as media, sight/vision, religion, race, color, interior, writing/language, etc. What does it mean, in relation to the novel, that words belonging to these categories are missing? Why is the word “house” printed in blue? Is there a connection between Only Revolutions and House of Leaves?

28. Why is the “logo” for Only Revolutions two vertical parallel lines enclosed in a circle? Does this image recall anything? Why is Hailey’s color separated from Sam’s by purple? What does the purple represent? In what ways does this reflect on the characters and the novel?

29. Why does the prefix “al-“ always appear with two “l”s? How does this theme reflect upon the novel? Why do Sam & Hailey spell “feer” with two “e”s? Why do they spell “chear” with an “a”?

30. The page numbers for each side are located within small circles, one in green for Sam and one in gold for Hailey, which are located within a larger circle. The circle for each character begins at the top of the larger circle and makes a full revolution back to the top by the end of the book. How can this be related to each character’s sense of self at the beginning and the end of the novel? The circles are shown revolving around each other. How does this relate to the novel?

31. In Hailey’s narrative, all “o”s and “0”s are printed in gold, while in Sam’s all “o”s and “0”s are printed in green. Because this seems to correspond to the eye color of each character, eyes must have a strong significance in the book. In what ways do you find eyes to be significant in the novel? In the center of the book (pages 177-184 on either side), there are 16 “o”s that are printed in the color opposite from the character’s usual color. What does this imply about the connection between Sam & Hailey at that point in the story?

32. What is your interpretation of the phrase “Expiration Date: Now,” which appears at the bottom of each character’s copyright page? Why is the phrase inverted? Why are the “o”s in this phrase printed in the color opposite of the character on which side it appears?

33. How does Sam’s narrative “end”? Hailey’s? The novel follows a procession of seasons, beginning in spring and ending in winter. Sam’s side begins with “Haloes,” while Hailey’s side begins with “Samsara,” both of which connote a rebirth or a return of some sort. Considering this, is the end of Hailey’s side the end of the novel? Sam’s? Does the novel end?

34. Why is the title Only Revolutions? How do you interpret the meaning of the title in relation to the book? How does the appearance of “Only” in the title alter the concept of “Revolutions” in the title? Does it increase it? Reduce it? Does it focus it? Isolate it? What “revolutions” can be found within the text? Political revolutions? Ecological revolutions? Spiritual?

35. How did you read the book? By the publisher’s recommendation? All of one character’s story, then the other? On which side did you begin, Sam’s or Hailey’s? Did you read the History Sidelines in a particular pattern? Did you read them thoroughly or just skim them to get the general idea? Did you find any connections between the History Sidelines and the narrative? Were the references easily identified as historical events? How do you think different reading strategies might effect the experience?

36. In which genre(s) could this book be classified? Is this a novel, in the conventional sense? Consider the item on the title page:

“Volume 0 : 360 : ∞” / “Volume 0 : 360 : ∞”

About this Author

Mark Z. Danielewski was born in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles. He is the author of House of Leaves.

Suggested Reading

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
The Prelude by William Wordsworth
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde
The Romance of Tristan and Iseult by Joseph BÈdier
Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey
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