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Haunted

Review

Haunted



Chuck Palahniuk's recent collection of short essays, STRANGER THAN
FICTION, was not. Not stranger than his fiction, that is.
Palahniuk, perhaps best known for FIGHT CLUB, is the author of
several witty, original novels, all of which have characters
engaging in taboo activities and challenging social norms and
values. Often full of sex and violence and free-thinking
individuals, Palahniuk's tales are much stranger and more
interesting than the topics he covers in his essays. His latest
novel, HAUNTED, shares much with his earlier ones, but
unfortunately lacks some of what made those books memorable and
unique.

HAUNTED is labeled a "novel of stories." It is, in fact, comprised
of twenty-three stories as well as twenty-one poems and chapters
that unify and explain the whole. The premise of the book is a
group of aspiring writers gathered for a writers' retreat where
they have agreed to isolate themselves for three months in order to
devote their energy to composing their masterpieces. We know
immediately that something has gone horribly wrong at the retreat:
the writers are victims of Mr. Whittier and the opening poem
alludes to violence and gore.

We learn from an unnamed narrator that the participants of the
writers' retreat, almost twenty of them, were picked up on a bus by
Mr. Whittier and his assistant, Mrs. Clark. But instead of being
taken to a tranquil place to write and reflect, they all are locked
in a huge, bizarre theater. Like the cast of "The Real World" or
"Big Brother" they are forced to live in close and uncomfortable
quarters, but here for the one-man audience of Mr. Whittier.

The prisoners do begin to create: not only do they tell their
stories (these are the short stories within the novel), they begin
to create an alternate account of their imprisonment, one that has
them further victimized and one that they hope will make them
famous with the blood-thirsty and tragedy-hungry media and public
after they are rescued. Their kidnapping by Mr. Whittier, a shadowy
sadist, inspires them to ensure that they are remembered as heroes
and martyrs. They resort to horrific means in order to ensure that
their suffering is extraordinary.

The short stories by each writer tell the tale of his or her life
before the retreat and are usually that person's deep secret or
life-defining moment. Mrs. Clark tells three stories, each
describing the sad path that brought her to Mr. Whittier. These
stories are racy, sometimes funny, always sad and uncomfortable. A
few of the stories are the highlights of the book; glimpses into
the odd lives of lonely and desperate people. The narrative between
these stories that describes this retreat from hell also is funny
in places, but overall the novel is lacking cohesion, probably
because Palahniuk is trying to do too much. Alluding to
literature's finest examples of group storytelling, especially the
writers of the Villa Diodati where Frankenstein was created by Mary
Shelley, and also satirizing America's obsession with both tragedy
and fame, Palahniuk seems to lack focus, even though moments in the
book are entertaining and successful. By the end, he has introduced
too many disparate ideas and fails to unify any of them or make one
overall point. Furthermore, he seems to care little about the fate
of his characters, and so obviously the reader will have even less
regard for them.

HAUNTED is mostly about the intersection of reality and fiction,
and when Palahniuk puts his creative energy toward this theme the
novel is funny, scary and thought-provoking. Othertimes HAUNTED
seems to be about gratuitous violence and grossing out readers.
Palahniuk's latest is not the best of his work, but it is not the
worst, either. Devoted fans of his creepy hyper-reality fiction
will surely find something in it to recommend this work, but others
may want to check out FIGHT CLUB or CHOKE for an introduction to
Palahniuk's fiction.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011

Haunted
by Chuck Palahniuk

  • Publication Date: May 3, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385509480
  • ISBN-13: 9780385509480