Haunted Is Not the Word That Comes to Mind…

Chris Palahniuk’s Haunted is a novel of short stories and poems. Let’s start off with the positive. This is the first set of short stories in a novel format that actually are cohesive. The poems paired up with each character are narrative in nature, but I noticed that the character of Mrs. Clark has the most short stories in the novel, which to me signifies she is the main focus of the book. However, she isn’t the main point of the book, which I can only describe as disgusting. I hit total utility with this book, which I read as part of the Irresistible Review Challenge. This book was reviewed by Anna at Diary of an Eccentric.

I want to caution anyone picking this book up that if you don’t have a strong stomach, do not attempt to read this. And I know what you are thinking: “It can’t be that bad.” My answer to that is: “It is and worse.”

The 17 members of the writer’s retreat get on a bus and head for an abandoned theater, which I can now only call the theater of horror. I won’t go into all the details of each character’s past, but I will tell you that their pasts pale in comparison to how they behave to themselves and their companions while on this retreat. Mr. Whittier, whom they deem the devil of their little show, is the catalyst, but whether he is worse or better than the rest of the cast, I am not really sure. I can tell you that he is very devious.

My one issue with this book, other than each story being more horrific than the last, is the ending story. The one-upping by the characters is not carried through, and I wonder if that was done on purpose or because the author himself ran out of things to do to these people in their stories and pasts. I also would like to comment that not all of these characters are haunted by their past lives or behaviors, but by themselves–their essences or their inability to change themselves. They are haunted by the incalculable lengths they will stoop to become the center of their “show.” They are haunted by their own lack of humanity and their inability to “save” themselves even when their salvation is before them. They remain focused and unchanged.

I guess that brings me to my second pet peeve with the book is that none of the characters evolve. Mrs. Clark, in particular, who is the most haunted by her past and her daughter, Cassandra, does not change. This disturbs me given that she insists she came on the retreat to discover what happened to her daughter and what her daughter saw in the nightmare box. She seeks answers that she doesn’t receive and then proceeds to fall into the same trap consuming the others at the writer’s retreat.

I recommend readers interested in this premise to be careful because the book makes you want to close your eyes and put the book back on the shelf. But curiosity draws your hand back to the shelf to reopen the book to find out what happens to these characters in spite of their faults. I guess in a way they got their wish and became famous.

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