"Well, yes; Haunted is a rip-off of A Chorus Line... just like Fight Club was
a rip-off of The Great Gatsby." -- Chuck Palahniuk
Chuck Palahniuk's novel Haunted, a Canterburyesque framework story containing twenty-three short tales, is truly something else. Arguably subpar offerings, at least by an author of his calliber, Lullaby and Diary both had fans of Palahniuk's earliest works worried that their favorite modern author was slipping down the creative slopes and becomming a book churning machine on the level of a Grisham or King. These worries were not allayed by a non-fiction collection of essays previously published, and previously read, by the most rabid of Palahniuk followers. It started to seem as if Chuck had slowly started to change direction from his previous works, it started to seem the edge to his novels wasn't as sharp as it once was.
Opening the pages of Haunted is akin to opening your eyes from a nap to find yourself underwater.
Just like that, you're out of control in a place you aren't completely comfortable... but you know better to panic.
"Chuckster is at his best when he's scarin' folks, let's see where he takes us this time," you may tell yourself as you plunge into the terrifying stories which attack your senses one after another, allowing no reprive. Haunted is a writing clinic... literally. The framework for the novella is that a rich benefactor, Brandon Whittier, invites people by newspaper ad to abandon their lives for three months; Mr. Whittier dares people to leave everything which clutters their minds behind them and sit down in seclusion at an old theatre house for three whole months to write their grand masterpiece. As time runs its course, conflict rears everywhere as the dynamics between the sequestered writers become tense. The Writers' Retreat, it would seem, is not what any of them had expected.
While the novella itself as an examination of a micromanaged social structure (and a scathing critique of reality television, as the characters eventually scheme to make only their character escape their tragedy as the hero) is highly successful, Palahniuk revealed at the New York stop of the 2005 Book Tour that from the earliest stages he was aware the novella wouldn't quite cut it as a stand alone story. Solution? These sequestered writers, these horrified souls detained under one roof for three months, they tell stories to each other. They work out the thesis for what will become their great story. They tell an elaborate lie of a history of themselves. They explain why they are at the retreat... As each storyteller takes the stage there is a brief narration of introduction, a mini biopic of the author, a fleshing out of the person sitting lonely like on that big stage, under the hot white stage light.
And just like that, Chuckster's produced 400 pages of classic Palahniuk: gut-wrenching tragedy that makes you laugh even though you know it makes you a bad person to do so. Haunted succeeds on every level, with several stories that manage to transcend just being good and take their place as some of the best writing Palahniuk has ever produced.
Published by Doubleday in May of 2005 Haunted joins Palahniuk's previous six works of fiction Fight Club, Survivor, Invisible Monsters, Choke, Lullaby, and Diary. The author continues to reside in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States of America.
- Guts by Saint Guts-Free
The first short story of the new novel hits you hard and hits you fast. A sexual renaissance tale, which was first published in Playboy, turns to disaster for one "pearl diving" teenager and Saint Guts-Free explains how he can wear pants with a 24 inch waist.
- Foot Work by Mother Nature
This story, which also first appeared in Playboy, explores the Dark Side of reflexology. Mother Nature runs into a friend whom she went to school with, and learns all about working the genital reflex zone of someone's heel before learning too much about the dangerous business that kind of knowledge attracts.
- Green Room by Miss America
Haunted loses a bit of steam when Miss America steps up to bat. The story isn't bad, even by Palahniuk standards, but it isn't exactly brilliant stuff either. Its shining moment is in the message which it conveys: win at all costs and damn the people who get in your way.
- Slumming by Lady Baglady
"Social divers are the new social climbers."
Slumming is the first story that really knocked me off my feet. Remember back in Fight Club when Tyler Durden misquotes Shelley? Remember how Tyler Durden told the narrator of that novel that he would have to lose everything before he could gain anything, that he would have to hit bottom?
This story is that message: distilled, heated, with a touch of cream. One minor character quips "Having nothing to lose is the new wealth" in the middle of a conversation... This story is a theme which Palahniuk has used and revisited before, and the repeat performance has much improved in this incarnation.
- Swan Song by the Earl of Slander
Swan Song hits you because you aren't prepared for it. Just like Green Room the story starts off innocently enough--a man's dog eats some aluminum foil and the vet makes the dog better. Man happens to be a reporter, asks the vet to do a humanitarian piece on him, get him some publicity. But... humanitarian pieces don't really sell. And... if it bleeds it leads. And... let's face it, everybody turns on the 5 oclock news to see what hero fell today. Swan Song hits you like a sucker punch you never saw coming (unless you read this spoiler and you're waiting for it), and just misses the cut for being a favorite.
- Dog Years by Brandon Whittier
First you chuckle, just at the premise of the story. Then you find yourself "ewwing" and "I can't believe it."
And then your eyes will pretty much widen as the conclusion of this progeriatric and his "angels of mercy" strikes home and the readers are suddenly exposed to what kind of person Mr. Whittier is...
- Ambition by the Duke of Vandals
Ambition is a story about an artist on the rise. After being released from court for his latest "art show" Terry Fletcher is recruited by an important critic to work for his studio. Of course, there is a price to gathering such sudden fame... of course Terry Fletcher is willing to pay...
- Post-Production by Mrs. Clark
This story revolves around what people will do for money. Not just some quick cash, but the kind of money that makes them think they'll never have another problem again. What at first seems like a solution winds up inexplicably destroying a marraige and leaves Tess Clark alone in the world... for the next nine months.
- Exodus by Director Denial
"Nobody here is defending what Cora did."
But still, it did happen. What happens when dolls underaged victims use to identify where they were hurt become victims themselves? What happens when officers of the law abuse break rooms and cpr dolls? In Exodus Cora Reynolds has the answers for everything, including how to get away.
- Punch Drunk by the Reverend Godless
Another Playboy previewed story, Punch Drunk is a money-making scheme about some good ole boys who have strangers line up to sock 'em with "that wailing song from the end of that Titanic movie" playing in the background. What's all this money for, you ask? Well, you never want to tell the charter plane company their plane is only making a one way trip.
- Ritual by the Matchmaker
It's a joke the uncles tell. It's a family tradition from the war. It's a horrible secret passed on when the cousins reach manhood.
It's the second best story in Haunted.
"Yes, terrible things happen, but sometimes those terrible things -- they save you."
Ritual is concise and glaring, so bright like sunset that you need to squint and swat at imaginary gnats buzzing around as you buzz through five pages it lives on. The biggest inside joke one family has owes its roots to the last big war, when all the uncles served together -- and may be the reason why they're all still there.
- The Nightmare Box by Mrs. Clark
It's part of an art exhibit, but it really isn't just art. It's stored on a dusty shelf of an antique shop, but nobody knows how it got there. It looks innocent enough, like an old time camera, a box on three legs. It's laquered black, with two big handles that you have to hold as you lean in close, twisted, and topheavy to look inside the viewfinder.
And then you press the button.
If The Nightmare Box is still ticking when you press the button, nothing happens. You just see a close reflection of your eye in the glass lense. But if the box has stopped ticking... that's the time to look inside and see what it has to show you.
The Nightmare Box is beautiful. At one point I had to literally stop reading and go back several paragraphs, just because they were so good. The Nightmare Box is your favorite song on a new cd, the one that you play three or four times for everytime you listen to any other song. It's that good. It's so good that I can't hope to do it justice with a blurb. If you've never heard of Chuck Palahniuk before and have no faith in any of his books go to your library, take out Haunted and read this story. It's that good.
- Civil Twilight by Sister Vigilante
Civil Twilight tells the story of a city gripped by fear. A monster is killing innocent citizens at dusk, with only its earth-shaking, window exploding, heart stopping, skull crushing footsteps as warning. This story looks into the behavior of a city in the grips of a red herring serial killer and how the citizens react.
- Product Placement by Chef Assassin
You will laugh reading the story by the Chef Assassin. You probably shouldn't, you may feel a little bad about it, but you will laugh. Just a little. With a name like "Chef Assassin" and a confessional letter to the Manager of Kutting-Blok Knife Products and an author like Palahniuk you can only guess what will happen, until Chef Richard Talbot tells you exactly what his plan is.
- Speaking Bitterness by Comrade Snarky
What would happen if a man tried to join a women-only group for ladies recovering from male related trauma? What would happen if the ladies tried to kick that man out? What would happen then if the man was really a woman, and tried to put up a fight? What if the women there didn't believe him, no matter how hard "he" cried? This is Speaking Bitterness
- Crippled by Agent Tattletale
People file for disability from work all the time. Lift something too heavy, fall down at an awkward angle; these are the sorts of things that win settlements from your employer. Of course, a lot of insurance agencies hire people to watch these "disabled" people. Watch them and make sure they aren't capable of doing any more heavy lifting that hurt them in the first place. A lot of insurance agencies hire these watchers.
A lot of these insurance agencies don't tell them what to do when you're caught and locked up in a shed by an angry person living off their disability check.
- Dissertation by the Missing Link
"Every language in the world has a word for werewolves. Every culture on earth fears them."
Mandy Somebody, in town to complete her disertation from her New York City school, has put together why. Because werewolves exist in all these places. Because there really is a Bigfoot out there. And in this hick bar in the middle of Nowhere, USA she's interviewing one.
- Poster Child by Mrs. Clark
Poster Child reveals why Mrs. Clark is at this writer's retreat. The continuing story of Cassandra picks up where it left off, the daughter looking into the nightmare box, then disappearing, and now suddenly returned. The police want answeres to stop the kidnapper from taking another innocent girl. Mrs. Clark wants answers to feel like she still knows her little girl. Cassandra objects, "You think I'd let someone else do this to me?"
Cassandra had been missing for exactly three months...
- Something's Got to Give by the Countess Foresight
Claire Upton needs to know how to destroy a security camera. That's how this story opens, and then starts to explain itself. Claire Upton is special type of clairvoyant who loves antique stores. She's the type of shopper who has to pick up, who has to touch everything she passes. She has to touch everything she passes because she sees the past, present, and future of everything she touches, while most people just see the present form of it. The big question is: what if she sees her own future?
- Hot Potting by the Baroness Frostbite
Miss Leroy loves small disasters. A car breaking down, a driver too drunk to stay awake at the wheel. She loves small disasters because without it, she'd always be alone, out at her little motel on the highway. And if she was always alone, she'd never get to pass along her stories of the hot springs, and the dangerously hot springs. What really puts Hot Potting over the top though is Miss Leroy's tale of Olson Read. Olson Read who lived and prayed through the hotsprings. The same Olson Read who died by them...
- Cassandra by Mrs. Clark
"I'm not like you any more, I don't need to brag about my pain."
The quote is from the end of Poster Child but it serves as a nice enough segway to the conclusion of the Cassandra legends by Mrs. Clark. Cassandra has disappeared again, and Mrs. Clark goes through her days like a robot, doing all the chores she loathes to do. Just waiting for that call from the police. They've found her little girl in a ditch by the side of the road, she's shaking and non-responsive. They've found her little girl, and she's dead.
Or they've found her little girl.
And they've set up a surveilance system.
And waiting for her murderer to return to the scene of the crime.
- Evil Spirits by Miss Sneezy
The Keegan Virus is a rapid acting viral brain tumor. Catch it and you have two or three days, at the most. Miss Sneezy has this virus, she's a carrier. This means that everybody she's ever known is dead, while she sits in an airtight room on the island of infectious carriers, a collection of government raised bodies hosting the most deadly diseases the world will never see.
- Obsolete by Mr. Whittier
Obsolete is a story about proof of life. Proof of life after death on Earth, that is. A spacemission to Venus shows that there's a party going on in outerspace, but if you're still alive you can't get in the door. Unfortunately, if there's a birth on Earth you can get sucked back out of the party.
Clearly, the solution is to have everybody head to this party at once, if they want to or not.
Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
NYC stop of the 2005 Haunted Book Tour