August 03, 2005


I have just read quite possible the most deranged, disturbed, and disgusting novel I have ever known. Intrigued yet?

Haunted, a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, tells the story of a writer's retreat that goes horribly wrong. The story is told through the individual stories of the writers at the retreat. It is kind of a Canterbury Tales for a much more cynical generation.

The writers were promised safe and complete seclusion from the world for three full months. They were told that all of their needs would be met, and they were told to bring only one suitcase each. Away from the distractions of the real world, they were promised the inner masterpiece within each of them could be written.

However, the heat and power at the retreat (an old theater) soon stop working. The food supply begins to dwindle suspiciously fast. The only way out of the theater is locked, and the retreat planner refuses to open the door.

To pass the time and to entertain themselves, the writers tell each other stories, mainly drawing from their individual pasts. The stories told range from disturbing to outright sickening. Supposedly, the stories become more extreme, reflecting the situation in which the writers find themselves.

While fighting to survive and listening to the dark pasts of their "roommates," each individual develops a dark motive to remain at the "retreat." Each begins to believe that they are experiencing something that will make them famous, and each seeks out a "plot point" to increase their own future fame and fortune.

Keep reading for my opinion of the book.

The inside flap describes this book as "a satire of reality television--The Real World meets Alive." In a sense, this is quite true. Every character is more than willing to suffer (and add to the suffering) that he or she will experience while trapped in the theater in order to increase the payoff he or she imagines at the end. Does this not describe the vast majority of reality television precisely?

The characters do not even refer to one another by their real names. Instead, each is given a "nickname." The nicknames reflect the dark secrets of each characters past. "Saint Gut-Free," "Reverend Godless," "Earl of Slander," "Miss America," and so on. The only time a character's real name is used is in his or her own stories.

I said earlier that this was the most disturbing and disgusting novel I have ever read. This feeling comes from both some of the stories that are told and some of the actions between the stories at the retreat. In my opinion, the most disturbing story is the first one told. It is told by Saint Gut-Free, and it essentially explains why he was given that name. The most disturbing part of the retreat is spread out as the characters seek to add to their suffering and make themselves appear more desperate.

This book reminds me quite a bit of Palahniuk's Invisible Monsters, in a way. Like that previous book, the content of Haunted is abominable, and I would recommend it only to a select few people that I know. The first story alone made me put the book down and stop reading it for a short while. I did pick it back up, obviously, and I am now glad that I did.

Posted by Randy at August 3, 2005 02:06 PM | TrackBack