Monday, April 14, 2008
If you love something, set it free... Just don't be surprised when it comes back with herpes.
These are just a few of the words I would use to describe the book I just read. Haunted By Chuck Palahniuk. Anyone not familiar with him is certainly familiar with his work. He is the author of the highly acclaimed novel turned blockbuster film, Fight Club. Anyone who read it or saw it will know immediately that Palahniuk makes you think about many things over the course of his stories. He also has ways of making the mundane seem obscene. He is a master of it, in fact.
Imagine being given the opportunity to create your master work. The freedom from the obligations of your everyday life. Away from the madness inducing routine of your everyday life, and were just allowed to work. It's a writer's dream. And Palahniuk turns it into their nightmare.
ABANDON YOUR LIFE FOR THREE MONTHS
Leave behind everything that keeps you from creating your masterpiece.
Your job and family and home,
all those obligations and distractions-
Put them on hold FOR THREE MONTHS.
Live with like-minded people in a
setting that supports total immersion in
your work. Food and lodging included free
for those who qualify. Gamble a small
fraction of your life on the chance to
create a new future as a professional
poet, novelist, screenwriter.
Before it's too late, live the life you
dream about. Spaces very limited.
That is the entire premise of the novel. Doesn't it sound fun? I know if I saw that ad, I would be first in line. And I would also be the first to flip out while I was there. The story is at some times disgusting, at others touching, at still others absolutely hilarious.
There is very little about this book that I disliked. If you do happen to read it, I would suggest skipping the first story about Saint Gut-Free. Oh, I should mention this: The book is broken up into 23 short stories told by the attendees of the retreat, about their own lives, only they glamorize themselves and embellish the story ever so slightly, just like you would if you were writing the story of your life. The small details may change, but the overarching narrative remains the same.
Back to Saint Gut-Free, it is the first of the short stories after the introduction to all of the characters. DO NOT READ IT! I implore you. It has almost no narrative value, and is, I believe, only meant to shock the reader. If you are a sexual pervert, and enjoy reading about the many ways teenage boys "get off", then by all means, read it. But it serves no purpose to the novel itself. Trust me. You might miss out on one joke, that appears 3/4 of the way into the story, and it is forgotten as soon as you read it. And honestly, the joke isn't even that funny. Not funny enough to have to read that passage at least.
Other than that, I totally recommend this book. It's 400 or so pages, and I blew through it in a weekend, and I am not one who usually reads like that. I usually pace myself. But I would find the book calling me to pick it up, enticing me to read on about Comrade Snarky (who is my favorite character and provides for the most uncomfortable breakfast scene in recorded history), and The Duke of Vandals, and Lady Baglady. And Mrs. Clark, who is the emotional epicenter of the novel. Her story plays out over three separate short stories, and holds the cathartic release the whole novel works towards. And the final story is one that will stick in your mind for days and days, and it won't let got until you accept the delicious irony of it.
Just a good summertime read overall, it's a good beach book, provided you can keep from discussing it in front of the kids. It's not really their fare. The whole thing will leave you with as many questions as it answers. It leaves many stories unfinished, and you are meant to infer how it actually ended. But it isn't like other books that have tried to do that. It doesn't leave you unsatisfied. If anything, I think it was very well played by Palahniuk. After reading these stories, our mind becomes so numb to the ideas put forth by them, it makes what we imagine to be the end of a story so much more sick and twisted than he ever could have written. Well, that's probably not true, but you know what I mean.
Palahniuk is maybe the finest writer of our generation, in my opinion. I would compare him to Jack Kerouac, but I am far too big a fan of Jack to do that him. Let's just say, he's Kerouacian in his style. Fast paced, layers upon layers of plot, and wonderfully enjoyable in its subversiveness.
I will leave you with the question old Mr. Whittier asks us all to consider:
If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back as a new character... Would you slow down? Or speed up?