Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Book Review, "Haunted"

If I have something positive to say about all the time I've been spending in airports and on planes lately, it would have to be the amount of reading I can get done. Without hassle.

If I have a long layover, I'm drawn inexorably to bookstores for, unlike other retail stores in airports, the prices of books are not inflated. Sure, there are no bargains either, but paying cover price for a paperback isn't insulting to me., and the payoff is generally worth the up-front fee.

I recently splurged and bought Chuck Palahniuk's latest paperback, "Haunted." It was the cover art and the title that got me:

Besides, this is the guy that wrote "Fight Club," a movie that I didn't know was a book first, and which I've never seen but I've heard was excellent with a great twist. I love a great twist; especially when I don't see it coming!

I'll admit that I bought the book because I like ghost stories, and if they're twisted, so much the better. I knew that there would be an emphasis on the human predicament here; what I didn' t realize was that there would be no paranormal focus at all.

OK, fine, whatever. Letting go of my ghost-story hopes, I dove into the book.

It took me a while to get into the rhythm of the book, and make no mistake, this book has rhythm. While some stories just pull you in and sweep you along in their undercurrent, this book was more like a spell being cast, a meditation, a play in 32 acts, each act divided into two parts.

The structure of the book is 23 essays, or short stories (it's hard to make the distinction here), and 21 poems. The premise of the collection is that 20-odd people converge at a writers' retreat where they have agreed to isolate themselves from any public contact for three months in order to shed the shackles of outside influence that are hindering their fulfillment of writerly destiny. It all goes horribly wrong, however, when the writers collectively focus on making sure they all emerge tragic heroes from their "unwilling imprisonment," thus sabotaging themselves and those around them in the interest of making their final story shocking and marketable.

The rhythm of the book is simple: Poem "about" a character, Story "by" that character. The poems are frequently, for lack of a better term, Haunting. The stories reveal each character's defining moment; that which led them into this situation, this temporary but utterly complete disappearance from society.

I found it difficult to get into the rhythm of the book at first. Truthfully I was several chapters in before I was able to get a perspective at all. The biggest obstacle to my submerging into the story was the introduction of each character as he or she boarded the bus, carrying the one allotted suitcase. Palahnuik describes each character and the contents of each suitcase in detail, but introduces them by the names used in the book. No character has a conventional name; they are all named around their respective life-altering event. There is Saint Gut-Free, Director Denial, Agent Tattletale, Lady Baglady, and so-on. While these names come to light later and actually stick, I simply could not form mental pictures that went with the names. It was only as each story was told that the names stuck. Maybe this was his intention?

Also, there wasn't really a defined point-of-view. At first it seems that we are seeing the story through the eyes of one of the fellow "prisoners;" indeed, maybe we were? If so, this person goes unnamed, un-poemed, and un-storied. It could be that this person is the oft-referenced, "camera behind the camera behind the camera" that all the characters struggle to be. Maybe this is the person that achieved the ultimate goal: to bring their stories to the world and profit from them? We never really know.

Each story is fraught with twisted, dark humor, and repulsive detail at times. The afterword tells of the fainting phenomenon that occured when Palahnuik would read the essay, "Guts" at live readings. And yet he manages to mix humor with revulsion and bring raw humanity into every situation.

In retrospect, I liked this book. In fact, I think I want to read it again, if only to cement together some of the information that I know I should have put together in the first place. I've been thinking about it a lot, and I can't fault a book that keeps me thinking long after I have put it down.

The killing blow for me, I think, was that I had to read this book over about a month, due to leaving it in multiple labs and falling asleep several times while reading it on a plane (no comment toward the book; I am very vulnerable to the hum of the engines of a plane and a dark cabin!). I think it would have had more cohesion if I could have kept it in "rhythm."

Other reviews I have read say that this is one of his lesser works, that Fight Club and Choke are right up there. I will definitely read those books after reading this.

In the end, it was a bit abstractly put together, a bit unfocused, and a bit gory. But I would recommend it for it's uniqueness in character development, interesting form, and thought provoking-ness.

Finally, I would recommend it for pure creep-factor. After finishing the book in the car one night, I brought it upstairs and put it on my nightstand. I did my bedtime hygeine routine, and when I walked into our darkened bedroom almost dropped on the spot in shock. This was staring back at me:

Nobody warned me the damn thing glowed in the dark.

So I chased JeepMan around the bedroom with it - he's more easily creeped out than I am....hee hee!!


Travis Erwin said...

I've never read any of chuck's books or seen Fight Club, but I like that cover.

Tiffany said...

Oh Oh, Im totally interested now! Do you think I can manage to finish it before Nursing school in a month?


Monnik said...

That cover is creepy.

No freaking way.

But I liked your review of the book. :)

writtenwyrdd said...

Sounds like it's not my thing (too literary! not paranormal!) but you obviously enjoyed it so I'll think about it. Love the glow-in-the-dark cover bit.

SUV Mama said...

LOL! Well, at least you chased him around the bedroom. I'm sure he enjoyed THAT part. I may have to buy this one for Corey. Now will you read Fight Club and review THAT one? :) I need to know if I should read it or not...

Debbielou said...

I've never read any of those books either - liked your review and the book cover. Might have to get it just to spook out my hubby !