Thursday, March 19, 2009

Haunted: A Novel

So of course I like Chuck Palahnuik. I've read everything he's ever written, with the strange exception of Fight Club. You would think I would have read that one first. But you know I enforce the book before movie policy above all costs most of the time, so I saw Fight Club first and then there wasn't really a point to reading it. Same should have been true with Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, but I actually did go back and read that novel post-movie viewing. The only novel of Welsh's I haven't read is his first, Filth. But whatever. This isn't a post about Irvine Welsh, although you  might want to look here in the future, I'm on a literature kick as of late, and by kick I mean two consecutive posts about books. 

So it's rare that I don't like anything Chucky writes, although his style can be a bit repetitive, even when he's writing in a female voice, the narrative voice doesn't really change, and the plot does get a bit recycled as well. It's always gotta be about somebody trying to escape something, doesn't it? Well, that ain't all bad, because aren't we all trying to escape something? Right? Right?

Anyway, so I bought Haunted: A Novel back in 2006 I guess right around the time it came out. I was all like, Chuck Palahnuik wrote a fuckin' horror novel!? I'm there. And I started reading it, got distracted by it a bit, because the frame story got on my nerves (get to that in a sec) and put it down for a minute, and by minute I mean three years. Then Christian randomly was combing through my books and took Haunted out and proceeded to read it. And then he wanted to discuss it, having not liked Rant and not wanting to have a discussion about that novel. So I decided to steel myself and give Haunted another try. I got through it this time and here's what I thought. And like a lot of stuff, sometimes it need some time to roll around in my mousetrap of a brain in order for me to come to really appreciate something, and by appreciate, I of course mean to be extremely and overly critical. 

Overall, Haunted is the story of 17 people who abandon their lives for three months to go on a writer's retreat to create their masterpiece. It's kinda like an urban episode of Survivor or a reality show where a bunch of losers are trapped in a house and forced to do shit to stay alive. But instead of being trapped on an island, ala Survivor, the would-be writers are trapped inside a old, ornate theatre and subjected to the whims of Brandon Whittier, an wealthy old man who is actually a thirteen-year old boy suffering from progeria who has amassed his fortune to execute these 'writer's retreats' by sleeping with the middle aged housewives that volunteer at his nursing home and then revealing that he is actually a child and blackmailing them. But more about who's who in a minute, 'cause it is worth mentioning, simply based on the imagination involved. So Whittier lures these fuckers here, withholds food, heat, power, and laundry to see how they'll all deal with the circumstances. What we are treated to in the meantime while the participants dismember, cannibalize, and kill each other is a personal narrative (hey, I teach college English, that's what we call it in class) from each person trapped in the theatre and the story basically reveals who they are or could possibly be and how it is they ended up trapped with a bunch of other assholes in a rotting old vaudeville house. Some are better than others, although most are stomach churning gross-outs peppered with that over-the-top imagination only Chucky can deliver. 

All the 'writers' have monikers the other 'writers' use instead of their real names. Curious and often annoying as hell, this takes a minute to get used to. Once the reader gets further into each personal narrative, the origin of these nicknames is typically revealed. For instance, the first story and also the story the novel is most well-known for, Guts, by Saint Gut-Free. Saint Gut-Free is a skinny youth who remains so skinny because of a masturbation accident involving a swimming pools suction valve. Mother Nature is a reflexologist, turned prostitute based on her knowledge of how to give great 'foot' and is on the lam from the Russian mafia after leaving her pimp. Miss America is a knocked up ex-morning show host who wants to be famous. Lady Baglady was a rich socialite until she and her husband began getting their sexual kicks from dressing as homeless people and fornicating in the street. One night, she and her husband witness the kidnapping of a Brazilian heiress and she's on the lam from the heiress' killers. The Earl of Slander was once a reporter who framed a boring child star as a kiddie pornographer in an attempt to win a Pulitzer. Director Denial was a social worker at a police station and tells us the story of Cora Reynolds, who committed suicide after trying to keep the police detectives at the squad from using anatomically correct child dolls for sexual purposes. Sister Vigilante may or may not have committed assault with a deadly bowling ball. Comrade Snarky has possibly sexually molested a possible male to female transsexual. The Missing Link is possibly a sasquatch/werewolf hybrid. And you get the idea. Every one is flawed, everyone is fleeing something, and no one is the least bit likable. I feel sorry for no one really, not even Mrs. Clark, Whittier's assistant, who lost her daughter, Cassandra, to a retreat of Whittier's some time in the near(?) past. Hard to say. Everyone is deliberately ambiguous about everything. 

Haunted is it's own damn thing. It's totally Palahnuik and it's totally fucked up. Which isn't a bad thing. The stories the 'writers' tell are gory, sick, graphic, sexually depraved, and some of them actually do evoke a physical reaction. Like I pinch up my face a little bit, wrinkle my nose, and kind of feel icky all over after reading Saint Gut-Free's story. It's effectively horrifying. Most of the stories are. It's also pretty effectively annoying in its form and style a lot of times. While imaginative, it's often repetitive. And as the participants in the retreat unravelled, oftentimes, so did my patience. But I kept reading and I realized I got a lot further in the novel the first go-round that I thought I did. And I realized that it's a challenging read, not just because of my tried patience, but because of what the author really does evoke. I said I don't like any of the characters, that doesn't mean I don' t feel sorry for them on some sort of level. I think I'm probably most curious to find out who is narrating the tale, too. Because from what I can tell, and from Christian reading it too, it's never revealed to us the nature of the narrator's identity? Who the hell is he? He's a participant but never gets his story into play. It's a curious choice and lends the story and eeriness, a haunted feeling, as it were. Harumpf. 

So yeah, second lit post in a row, and this scotch is starting to go to my head. Yes, I'm drinking while I'm blogging. So what. Anyway, here it is in a scotch bottle (like an nutshell, get it?): I like the fucking thing, okay? It's obnoxious but I don't think it's trying to be something it isn't. It's an effective commentary on what people are willing to do to become famous, escape their pasts, fill in the blank. What won't people do when they're pushed to the limit? What won't people do sometimes to change their boring ass lives? Some people don't, but you can be damn sure they dream about it. 

Read more! I know we loves the movies! But there's lots of good horrors, great horrors even, in book form. Sometimes even more so. Okay, I said sometimes.   

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