Thursday, July 30, 2009

Haunted



This might be the strangest Chuck Palahniuk book I've read to date. Haunted appealed to me not only because of the author but because of the style in which the novel is written. Palahniuk is so unique that he astounds me every time, but he also astounds me with how gory and grotesque he can be. Just when you think you've read the worst of his mind, it gets even worse than that.

Haunted is a book comprised of short stories, scattered between a plot that continues every other chapter. The premise of the book is that a handful of writers elect to go on a writer's retreat. The person running the retreat, Mr. Whittier, tells his subjects that they cannot leave the abandoned theatre he locks them into until they write a marvelous story. They will have plenty of food, water, and utilities to keep them happy in the meantime.

The residents at the retreat each decide that they want to capitalize on their suffering in this situation and secretly sabotage the food, water, and utilities until there are none remaining. They want to use their suffering as their stories, and to make them famous, so they also take it a few steps too far. People start to die or are murdered--adding more flavor to their stories and adding more royalties per remaining survivor. Instead of looking at it like normal people do, as a tragic loss of life, they look at it in terms of money and fame.

Each character tells his or her story throughout the novel. Each character is dubbed a nickname due to the story that he or she tells. It's a very unique way to have a novel. Continue a story thread throughout and then sprinkle in stories told by the characters themselves, the only look you get into their lives and the way they think. It's a very smart way to structure a novel.

The novel became more farfetched and farfetched as I went along. Some of the stories were interesting, but some of them were really horrifying, perhaps hence the title. Not every story appealed to me because it was too much for me, it was either too sexual or too disgusting--something that made me feel uncomfortable. The things that Palahniuk comes up with in his mind are shocking to me. I can't believe what I read sometimes, but that must be why he's so successful! People are on the edges of their seats and they have no idea what to expect next!

I'm going to go through the list of characters and their stories. In isolation, some of the stories are pretty good. Some of them are boring or just too over-the-top for me.

Brandon Whittier: "Dog Years," "Obsolete"
Known as Mr. Whittier, Brandon is the leader of the retreat. His stories reflect his suffering of progeria which means that he ages much faster than a normal person. In fact, he appears to be a 60 or 70 year old man when in fact he is thirteen. One story reflects his scheme of talking to middle-aged women into sleeping with him and performing other duties that he might not experience before he dies. He then blackmails them with the truth and they give him money to shut up his secret. This is how he becomes wealthy.

Tess Clark: "Post Production," "The Nightmare Box," "Poster Child," "Cassandra"
Known as Mrs. Clark, Tess becomes Mr. Whittier's assistant in order to find out what happened to her daughter at the last writer's retreat. Her daughter went missing, then stumbled through the woods starved and apparently sexually assaulted. The daughter, Cassandra, ends up starving herself to death and will not tell anyone what happened to her even though police interrogate her thoroughly. Tess goes to the writer's retreat to find out what happened to her daughter. Before this, Tess was a housewife turned amateur porn star.

Saint Gut-Free: "Guts"
The most famous story written in the novel, Saint Gut-Free tells of a man who lost his intenstines while masterbating on the bottom of a swimming pool. He had his anus over the whole that sucks in on the bottom, pulling out his intestines and almost killing him. The rest of the story tells of other poor boys who have had fatal accounts with masterbating that have left them as scarred as Saint Gut-Free.



Mother Nature: "Foot Work"
Mother Nature is portrayed as the earthy, hippie-like character. She used to do massages and hardly earned any money for it. Then, she ran into another friend she went to school with for massage therapy, and this woman was making a lot of money. Apparently, there is an underground sexual foot massage business that the friend hooks up Mother Nature into. They make tons of money pleasuring men this way. The story ends when they want to get out of the business but are refused, her friend murders their boss and then the friend is murdered, so Mother Nature runs away to this retreat to save her life from the Russian Mafia who run the foot business.

Miss America: "Green Room"
Not as interesting of a story. She is a pregnant model who wants to become famous by promoting an exercise devise on television. The fate of Miss America and her baby are not very good by the end of the novel...

Lady Baglady: "Slumming"
My favorite story. Lady Baglady is a rich woman who is bored with her high-class lifestyle. She soon finds another rich friend of hers who is slumming like a homeless person on the street in rags. Her friend convinces her that homeless is the new rich, so she tries being homeless and learns how thrilling it is. It becomes a hobby of hers. She reconnects with her husband. But, their fun soon ends when Lady Baglady and her husband are sleeping in an alley when the witness a murder. The murderer tries to kill every homeless person in the city to eliminate the witness, so Lady Baglady is forced to stop slumming.

The Earl of Slander: "Swan Song"
A reporter wants to make it big, so he meets up with a former child star and realizes that he can't sell a good story on a perfect life. So, he frames him for child pornography and other forms of addiction in order to create an article that will win him a Pulitzer and cause his career to take off. The child star kills himself from the horrible exposure and publicity even though none of it is true.

The Duke of Vandals: "Ambition"
He is an artist who wants to make it big. He sneaks his own and other artworks into museums to spark their popularity. He is then confronted with how to make it big: he must kill another artist. He does so and is granted fame, but he is now blackmailed. In order to keep allowing for his success to continue, his schemers keep giving him more artists to kill. They keep making him more famous and famous, but he doesn't like the continuing murder business.

Director Denial: "Exodus"
She is a social worker at a police station who tells the story of a former coworker, Cora Reynolds. (She names her cat after Cora) She works in a department where they work with sexually abused children, so they have dolls that children use to identify where they were taken advantage of. The problem is that the police officers abuse the dolls, staining them with their filth. Cora does everything she can to stop it. She puts pins in the holes and tries to take them home, but her desire to stop them and fail eventually kills her.

Reverend Godless: "Punch Drunk"
He is a former solider who needs to raise money to fund a war on religion. In order to do this, he dresses up in drag and allows people to assault him. He is an atheist and speaks avidly of it.

The Matchmaker: "Ritual"
A cowboy who convinces his wife to marry him after hiring a male prostitute to show him that he really is a man, especially when compared to this one. This story is really disturbing because it talks about a family word passed down from the generations. "Sharook." They tell of being in Nazi POW camps where the officers used to make women perform on the men. Once they climaxed, they would slit their throats which would make this noise. The noise basically means that life sucks and there's nothing you can do so live it up now. The uncles eventually escape when one woman takes revenge before her death and bites it off.



Sister Vigilante: "Civil Twilight"
She is a strange woman who carries around a bowling ball. People are discovered murdered in the town she lives in with heavy objects, similar to a bowling ball. The town bans certain colors of bowling balls so they are visible to see in the nighttime, and they track for a bowling ball killer. Wild.

Chef Assassin: "Product Placement"
This story is written in the form of a letter to the manufacturers of the knife company which he uses. The Chef is a professional chef who is angered by negative reviews of critics. So, when he gets a negative review, he kills the reviewer with his favorite knives. He writes to the company to blackmail them that if they tell on him, he will expose that he used their knives to do the deeds which would wipe out their company. He wants to thank them for such an incredible product and inspiration.

Comrade Snarkey: "Speaking Bitterness"
Crazy story too. This lady goes to a women's support group because he can't trust men anymore since her mother always warned her of her father sexually abusing her, which never happened. When they are at the support group, a transvestite walks in and they try to get him out of there. He tries to plead that he is now a woman. In order to prove this, they interrogate him and then sexually assault him to figure out what he is or is not.

Agent Tattletale: "Crippled"
A man becomes temporarily crippled and tries to get rich from worker's compensation from his job. Because he will be found out soon, he kills the man who is investigating on him. He then takes his job and is almost killed by a woman he was spying on earlier.

The Missing Link: "Dissertation"
The Missing Link writes an intense paper on how certain creatures really do exist, like Big Foot, sasquatches, the Loch Ness Monster, eetc. The Missing Link, apparently, comes from a generation of people who can tranform into sasquatches. Hm.

The Countess Foresight: "Something's Got to Give"
This woman receives psychic visions by touching a jar filled with Marilyn Monroe's unborn child. When the woman at the store will not let her touch it anymore, she murders her. She then has to wear a big bracelet on her wrist as a part of her parole.

The Baroness Frostbite: "Hot Potting"
The Baroness worked at a lodge. She lost her lips to frostbite when she tried to save a swimmer in the frozen lake. She discusses people's features and missing them and the culture's obsession with appearances.

Miss Sneezy: "Evil Spirits"
Miss Sneezy has chronic sinus problems. She claims to have some wacky, incurable disease that she and others had and were locked up in some ward for a while. No one really knows if this is true or not. She claims to have been locked down in a government isolation facility and has now escaped.

Crazy stories, huh? Some of them were shocking while others were pretty interesting. I am impressed with the names that Palahniuk came up with. It seems like he had fun creating them, but they match the stories perfectly. I really liked having a book with all of these nicknames instead of the normal names, Jim, Bob, Rachel, etc. He continues to surprise me and be unqiue.

I wonder how he created this story. Did he come up with the stories first and then the plot or the other way around? How did he structure which story came first, next, or last? Who did he want to kill off and why? So many questions!

Lastly, I did want to add the background behind his most popular story from this book, "Guts." I read that this was also published in Playboy, and it received an intense following. While touring for his books, Palahniuk would read this story, and people would literally faint while hearing him read it. The total racked up to 65 people while on tour. The only place he didn't have someone faint was in New York City. Pretty interesting, but I'm not surprised. It's really graphic and disturbing. Read at your own discretion.

You have to be really prepared if you want to read this book. It's a bit messed up, but other parts of it are enjoyable. If you want to learn how to portray characters of create a strong character, this book is a good look into studying how to do that since he does it so well. I only advise to read this book with precaution!

What do you think of Haunted?

2 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Well-written commentary. I really enjoyed your take on Palahniuk's stories, style, and characters. Thanks for writing such a detailed report! :)