Reviewed by D.W. Bostaph, Jr.
Written by Chuck Palahniuk
Published by Double Day
Chaucer this is not. Cautionary all the same, but with different sins for different times. The yarn that is spun here recalls the distinct odors of those long past themes: Humans are bad, bad to the bone, and if given the opportunity, we will quickly devolve into something monstrous, bored, and destructive. Why? Because this seems to be a human quality from which we cannot escape. Chaucer used the deadly sins to illustrate our innate sense of misdeed and flaw, and now we come full circle to Chuck Palahniuk’s Canterbury, the novel Haunted.
Haunted’s premise is a writer’s dream come true and then gone horridly awry. An advertisement is put up for authors seeking to "get away." Sign on for a writer’s retreat, three whole months to do nothing but work on your masterpiece. Just sit and write and perfect that one thing you love to do more than anything else. Easy, no mess ... right? It should be. The selected individuals are instructed to only bring one piece of luggage, and they mostly comply – but only in a physical sense. The brain is a storage compartment that holds many, many boxes of things we need not relive in our lives, and none of these can be checked at the door.
Essentially made up of the 23 stories that are written during the retreat and wrapped up in a surrounding blanket, quilting out the psyches of the authors, Haunted offers a glimpse into each person’s head and past. It then gives you the real story behind the people we are trapped with in the bindings of this book, people with fitting nicknames such as Saint Gut-free, The Reverend Godless, and Miss Sneezy. All of these monikers have their own meanings, and trust me, even the most innocent of them have a background that will leave you gasping for breath.
I found reading this book to be a bit like watching an episode of the television show LOST. Each character is mentioned in the larger surrounding story, and we get more in-depth development about the place where they are being kept in the flashes between each new revelation. This allows for cliffhanger-type intrigue that will have your hands fumbling for the edges of the page as each story unfolds and the retreat begins to change and focus on things that have less and less to do with writing and more to do with … well … you just need to read it.
My biggest fear was that I would fall in love with the stories but then find the encompassing tale a bland creature. When reading previous books with a similar setup, I have found myself skimming through the big picture to catch the glimpses of brilliance showcased in the stories, the real backbone of the work. Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth here. Palahniuk has forged a solid structure in the wraparound from which meaty story muscles can hang and fully flesh out the beast. And this story is ALL about the flesh. Eviscerated, boiled, and putrid, the pages leak with Palahniuk’s matter of fact prose, which provides descriptions of hideous acts, hilarious and nauseous experiences – all of them odd, weird, arcane, or just plain really, really, really sick.
My only other experience with Chuck Palahniuk was David Fincher’s Fight Club, which I feel is the machismo classic for all penis-carrying members of the male species. A beautiful epithet of what it means to be a man in this confusing day and age. Haunted is more of a slow stewing meditation on what it means to be a human. Yet, readers be warned: This spiral has nowhere to go but down … way down..
It is about time someone did an exploitation novel like this, a grisly cooker of a book that revels in a sick Salo-like world filled with Frankenstein creation nods, cooked flesh, exposed entrails, fucking, fetishes, cannibalism, penis mutilation, female and male and ???? humiliation, yetis, aswangs, werewolves, third degree burns, fourth degree burns, kiddie porn, anatomically detailed dolls, invisible monsters, and a really good reason not to listen to older boys when it comes to new techniques in self-pleasure.
I stood up at least three times while reading this book. It shocked me that much. I just could not believe where it was going and what it did. I do not want to call Mr. Palahniuk a mainstream writer, but with Haunted sitting on the New York Times Best Seller List, it is hard not to. Kudos to the author for making such a fringe thing as gonzo exploitative horror a must-have.
I get more of kick out of this than I should. You see …
I love exploitation and sick, sick films that would cause me to lose my job if people knew I owned them. With all the legislation and legal intervention over content and decency as of late, I find a happy place swelling in my heart when I read a book like this and then realize that it could be “THE” book to buy this summer. And each time I see a bloated middle-aged soccer mom – the same one who looks down at me (and all of us) for having piercings, wearing black, and taking my five-year-old to see Hellboy – sitting on the beach and clasped within her pale white suburban hands is this book, the eerie cover glinting between her finely manicured nails, the sick, shocked smile on her face reveals her hypocrisy. And then, my friends, this horror loving heart of mine will grow three sizes too big at that moment. All I can hope is that between the covers she will glimpse the truth that Mr. Palahniuk has splattered clearly for us all to see our mythology and what it really means to be human.
5 out of 5