Thursday, July 25, 2013

Haunted (A Throwback Thursday Post)

Haunted  by Chuck Palhaniuk
Read 2005

This was my first time reading a Chuck Palhaniuk book. I've seen bits and pieces of Fight Club on HBO, but that the sum total of my experience with his work.  I'm not sure what list I was looking at, but one of them refers to Fight Club as a future classic.  I guess I'll have to read it since I seem to have committed myself to reading every book on every list ever written. I've already got three ring binders filled with book lists.  I may just wind up committing myself, period.  Hmmm, that would give me more time to read. Do they have libriaries in mental institutions?

So, I saw that the new Palhaniuk book was coming out and there seemed to be a lot of talk about it. I put in my request for it at the library and, surprisingly, it came in very quickly.  Maybe I should have read more into that. Often, when I request a new book after its publication date, I wait months for my turn.

The concept is this; 16 people answer an ad for a three month writer's retreat with no interruptions or distractions. None use their real names and all travel by bus to a deserted rundown theater where they are locked in by their hosts, Mr. Whittier and Mrs. Clark.  These are some seriously disturbed individuals and they are also all their own worst enemies, as well as each other's.

The story is told in three different styles. There is the narrative of what is happening in the theater, poems on each of the characters, and stories written by the characters. Each of the character stories reveals how messed up these people and their lives are.  They are all nicknamed and the nicknames reveal parts of their histories and personalities.  They are called Miss America, Matchmaker, Missing Link, Mother Nature, Ealr of Slander, Sister Vigilante, Lady Baglady, Agent Tattletale, Saint Gut-Free, Duke of Vandals, Comrade Snarky, Director Denial, Countess Foresight, Baroness Frostbite, Miss Sneezy, Reverend Godless and Chef Assassin.  If you are already trying to figure out what their stories could be to coincide with their names, don't bother. Palhaniuk's versions are one more messed up to the last and will probably defy even your imagination.

They are all picked up by bus with instructions to tell no one where they are going and only allowed one bag for the whole three months.  Ostensibly, this was for space considerations, but I think it had more to do with what awaited them.  I don't know what they thought they were signing on for, but it certainly wasn't being locked up in a moldy old theater, living on dehydrated food.I don't know if it's because of the author, or if it was intended, or if it's just a sign of the times, that these people, despite their differences, are all very similar. If it's the author, then that's not a good thing. It would mean that he's not capable of writing varied characters. I would really have to read another Palhaniuk book to get a better sense of his style and how he writes his characters. If it was intended and/or a  sign of the times, that's a totally different matter.  Those two options would go hand in hand and are distinctly possible.

At first they are miserable because of their accommodations and feeling a little like they've been taken advantage of, , but gradually they turn their situation into a really gory survival tale to make them famous. They sabotage themselves and each other in an attempt to make their stories media magnets.  

Not only are they all serious damaged people with horrific pasts, but they seem hellbent on making sure their lives stay this way, or even end this way. As the story progresses, it gets disgusting. As I got closer to the end of the book it got harder and harder to pick it up and continue reading.   None of these people is very likable and it got harder to like them as they put more and more effort into harming themselves and each other. It seems to me that none of them wanted to make the effort to write a great story and use that to catapult them t fame. It's the reality television version of fame. They want to be famous, not for anything they've created, as you would imagine of anyone attending a writer's retreat. They really wanted to end up as  a news story like that hiker who cut off his hand a couple of years ago, or the little surfer girl who got her arm bitten off by a shark. Except, both of those people would probably have rather kept their appendages and about their lives. These people are your runaway brides and your sister's of murderers, people who get book deals and sell the movie rights to their stories because our culture is such a disaster that we've created a new and vile kind of fame.

This book was very disturbing and filled with some seriously sick folks.  Yet, most disturbing of all, is that if you turn on the television on any night, you can find your screen filled with people who would do the same thing, if only given the opportunity. Not just the people on the news, but also the people appearing on the completely unreal "reality" television. A bunch of fame whores who will quite literally do anything to get fifteen minutes of fame, and then to extend it for as many seconds more as possible.  I guess what it boils down to is that Palhaniuk just might be a genius.  Haunted is a horror story that truly mirrors the world where we live.  Do we really need to go back there to escape?

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