Saturday, December 8, 2012

This Week's Book: Haunted

So I finally read a book by the vaunted Chuck Palahniuk, perhaps best known for the film rendition of Fight Club. (Yes, I've at least seen that. I am, however, a unique and special snowflake.) Haunted was a fun read - I liked the pacing and the angle.

December 2-8: Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Horror (2005 - 411 pp.) 

The premise of Haunted is an interesting one: a whole ton of writers on a retreat that consists of being locked in a building for three months. They make the best of the time, if that's what you consider slowly killing each other and themselves. Most have names in some way related to their conditions, like the lip-free Baroness Frostbite or the psychic Countess Foresight. Each tells a sordid, twisted back story through a strategically placed vignette. These stories, interspersed with poems about the characters, sit between the twenty-four chapters. 

The book is at the same time hilarious, scary and disturbing. My favourite story is "The Nightmare Box", which on its own could have been the premise for an entire collection of stories. My least favourite is "Obsolete", which didn't present anything I found particularly gripping and was one of the longest to boot. The book's funniest quotation comes about halfway through: "You could put Mahatma Gandhi into a convent, cut off his nuts, shoot him full of Demerol, and he'd still take a shot at your face if you played him that 'Wind Beneath Your Wings' song." (186-187) (For those interested in reading this book, this is in no way spoiled. When you see it in context, you'll hopefully double over just like I did.) Most of the stories are entertaining, with helpful insights into how the characters got to be who they are. There is relatively little character development during the chapters, which Palahniuk uses to focus on the horrifying character of the writers' retreat. 

Amazingly, the characters know what awaits them. There's no element of kidnapping here. The book starts with the question: "If you were planning to be stranded on a desert island for three months, what would you bring along?" (6) In some ways still the kid who grew up reading choose your own adventure books, I naturally had to compile a list of my own. My suggestions appear to have been too practical for Haunted's deranged writers; not a single one had thought to bring astronaut ice cream or GORP (i.e. calorie-dense foods that won't spoil easily), a Brita filter in case the water isn't very good, lightweight synthetic outerwear to maximize the warmth-to-space ratio in the suitcase, and of course a whole ton of pens, pencils and paper. Each writer presumably took the last of those, although we curiously never see anyone writing during this retreat. It all consists of building a story. How each character builds stories is the story. 

Palahniuk started on the mishmash of short stories that would eventually morph into Haunted all the way back in 1991. This was no surprise to me, as throughout the book I kept feeling like I was reading something from the '90s. Maybe Haunted would have been a more effective release 5-10 years before it came out. The strings of one-word sentences detailing how bleak the world is just didn't feel edgy anymore in 2005, for example. Regardless, I enjoyed it, and the story behind "Guts" was especially amusing considering that was one of my favourite entries. 

Ease of Reading: 8 
Educational Content: 2

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