You have to be careful when dealing with anything Chuck Palahniuk. For one thing, the man has a legion of fans that are as devout as many of your Inquisition era Spaniards. Fight Club is their bible, Chuck their god, and if you say anything adverse, you can expect to have your toenails extracted and your genitals clubbed.
It doesn’t help that the man actually has some talent. It only further goads the rabid fan-base. Like many, I was introduced to Palahniuk through the film Fight Club, a movie I love dearly, as do many film geeks. It seemed original when nothing else was, and I knew I HAD to read the book to see what was lost in the translation. Fight Club, while remaining similar to the movie in most regards, was disappointing, and one of the few cases where I would say the source was surpassed by the film. The ending left a bad taste in my mouth.
I didn’t pick up another Palahniuk novel for 6 years.
Fast forward (if this were the film, we’d get the Durden-esque splice of a giant
cock) and I am wandering a bookstore when Haunted catches my eye. I read the
blurbs, nothing really sticking out, until I flip through the first few pages.
Palahniuk begins the book with a powerful mantra: Every story is a ghost. I
had no idea what it meant, or even if it was important to the story, but I was
Haunted is a very difficult book to describe. It has a plot, but that really
isn’t the point. You could almost call it a collection of short stories with
window dressing. The plot concerns a collection of would-be writers responding
to a flier advertising openings in a 3 month long writer’s retreat. For 3
months, no interaction with the outside world, only the writers and their
stories. They are locked in, and forced to do what the flier says; nothing but
write. These people believe that it is the outside world that hinders them,
halts their completion of a “Masterpiece,” but locked away, they are equally
Our cast is filled with distinctly weird characters, each taking a title rather
than go by their own name. Instead of Bob and Sally, we get the Saint of
Masturbation, The Missing Link, Mother Nature, and others. This isolation, of
course, drives all the characters bat shit crazy, everyone in their own little
messed-up-unique-snowflake way. Bad things start to happen. People start to
die. A nefarious love story makes its way into the group out of sheer
necessity. And they are trapped, unable to leave until their 3 months is up.
The most advertised aspect of Haunted is the extreme scenes that (as the
author claims) have caused numerous readers/listeners to pass out from the
shock. It’s true, there are some revolting scenes. Yet, despite the insistence
on the stomach churning and the absolute grotesque, something is being said in
this novel. Palahniuk has style, and his voice is one that lulls you in, makes
you want to listen to the characters and their nuances. As the characters watch
their ordeal play out as a story, each trying to make themselves out to be the
hero/heroine, I kept coming back to that first statement. There is satire,
leaking from every scene, and the allusions to reality TV are obvious from the
get go. And, at its heart, Haunted is a ghost story.
Each chapter is book-ended by a poem and story from one of the characters, and
the characters seem determined to make sure that their story is the most
calamitous, the most vile, or the most disgusting, should a Made-For-TV movie
deal ever come about from the ordeal. In short order we have: murder,
pedophilia, a pedi-assassin, sex with dolls, EXTREME masturbation, cannibalism,
abuse against animals, repeated self mutilation, the search for Bigfoot, and
even a little progeria thrown in for kicks.
Overall, I enjoyed Haunted while finding it gross and mildly disturbing. In
places it can leave you laughing, while in others it does have the power to make
you feel sick. But, there are also places where it seems too outlandish, and
leaves a bad taste in your mouth. The last chapter (written almost as a
“Foreword”) is a little too self obsessive for my taste, as Palahniuk tells of
the many, many people he has had pass out at the public readings of the first
It’s fairly safe to say that Haunted is a unique reading experience.
Final Verdict: Deserves a place in the fucked-up Hall of Fame.