Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Haunted" by Chuck Palahniuk

I'm on a Chuck Palahniuk binge right now and I am glad of it. I first read one of his books back in 1999. It was "Fight Club," I was so impressed with the movie that I had to read the book. In fact I took my wife (at the time we were "dating") to see this movie to get her response, and based on her response we got married and have been happily married ever since. Yeah there's more to Fight Club than just beating up people (a lot more). But this is about "Haunted." Once again I've read another great novel by Chuck Palahniuk.

This book is branded as a "novel of stories." Which is to say it is a novel with 23 short stories interwoven through the plot of the book. The basic premise is that 17 individuals are "recruited" to attend a writer's retreat. A time away from the world to write that big masterpiece. Each of the would be writers at first seem just like normal people. Through the book they are referred to by nicknames. These nicknames are based on the stories they tell throughout the book. All except Mr. Brandon Whittier the old man (or is he) that "hosts" the retreat and his "assistant" Mrs. Tess Clark.

Here are the nicknames and stories and a brief description of each:

Brandon Whittier -"Dog Years", "Obsolete" -A wheelchair-bound rich man who owns the abandoned theatre and hosts the writer's retreat. Though he appears to be a very old man, he is in fact a 13 year old boy who suffers from progeria.

Tess Clark -"Post-Production", "The Nightmare Box", "Poster Child", "Cassandra" A failed amateur porn actress who has become Whittier's assistant to learn what happened to her daughter Cassandra at Whittier's last writer's retreat.

Saint Gut-Free - "Guts" An abnormally skinny man who lost part of his lower intestine in a masturbation accident.

Mother Nature "Foot Work" A reflexologist and homeopathic therapy expert who was once employed in prostitution based around her skills with reflexology. She has joined the retreat to escape the mafia, who are out to kill her for abandoning her job and being an accessory to the murder of her friends pimp.

Miss America "Green Room" A pregnant model who wants to become famous.

Lady Baglady (Evelyn Keyes) "Slumming" A rich woman who, along with her husband, used to pretend to be homeless to get over her boredom with being rich. After she and her husband witness a crime leading to the murder of a wealthy Brazilian heiress, her husband is murdered by the captors, and a string of homeless people are murdered in the search for her. She comes to the retreat to escape the people who want to kill her.

The Earl of Slander "Swan Song" A reporter who murders a former child star in order to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning article about his victim's hidden habits and supposed suicide.

The Duke of Vandals "Ambition" An amateur artist who sneaks paintings into museums. He later becomes a respected professional when he murders a famous artist as a favor to the man who funds the other artist. He has come to the retreat to escape the same fate as the other artist.

Director Denial "Exodus" The director of a police station. She brings with her a cat named Cora Reynolds, named after its former owner, a co-worker who killed herself trying to stop police officers from using anatomically correct dolls for sexual purposes.

Reverend Godless "Punch Drunk" A former soldier who, with a group of other soldiers, raises money by lip-syncing in drag and allowing people to assault him in order to fund a war on religion. This has to be my favorite story with some great humor and a very dark message.

The Matchmaker "Ritual" A man who dresses similar to a cowboy. He convinced his wife to marry him after hiring a male prostitute to ruin her idea of the perfect man.

Sister Vigilante "Civil Twilight" A religious woman who carries a bowling ball with which she may or may not have killed people.

Chef Assassin (Richard Talbott) "Product Placement" A professional chef who murders critics who write negative reviews of his cooking and blackmails knife manufacturers by threatening to tell the world that he uses only their knives to commit his deeds.

Comrade Snarky "Speaking Bitterness" A woman who is critical of other women's looks. When she was a child her parents divorced and her mother continually warned her that her father might sexually abuse her. This, however, never occurred but because of it she has been wary and critical of men for her entire life.

Agent Tattletale (Eugene Denton) "Crippled" A man who becomes temporarily crippled and tries to cheat the company he worked for out of worker's compensation after he recovers. After killing a man who was collecting evidence on him for the company, he takes that man's job and is almost killed by a woman who he spied on.

The Missing Link"Dissertation" A member of the Chewlah, a tribe of people who are, according to local rumor, able to transform into sasquatches..

The Countess Foresight (Claire Upton) "Something's Got to Give" A woman with psychic powers. She was arrested for murdering a man who she believed murdered Marilyn Monroe. She now wears an electronic tracking bracelet as part of the terms of her parole.

The Baroness Frostbite (Miss Leroy) "Hot Potting" A former employee of the White River Lodge who lost her lips to frostbite while trying to save someone from an accident at the hot springs nearby.

Miss Sneezy (Lisa Noonan) "Evil Spirits" A woman with chronic sinus problems. She claims to carry an incurable disease, and that she escaped from a government isolation facility. This one rings of Edgar Allen Poe's story "The Masque of the Red Death."

This book really is almost a spoof of all the "crap" you see on reality TV. Several strangers working together, forming alliances and competing for a prize. The prize here is the "masterpiece" to be written. They all get locked in and start creating their own horror. When the food goes bad, well they have to find food somewhere.

Basically you take Stephen King, Clive Barker, Edgar Allen Poe and sprinkle in some H.P. Lovecraft and this is what you get in this novel. Some of the stories contain dark humor that Chuck Palahniuk which is, it seems, a specialty of his, and some are haunting. They all, however have a great message about humanity.

As a little added bonus the paperback features a glow in the dark cover. And if you prefer audio books the audio book has sections read by many talented voices including my favorite, Scott Brick. Other readers include: Erik Darling, Arthur Morey, and Lorna Raver.

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