Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk is a novel made up of stories: Twenty-three of them, to be precise. Twenty-three of the most horrifying, hilarious, mind-blowing, stomach-churning tales you’ll ever encounter-sometimes all at once. They are told by people who have answered an ad headlined “Writers’ Retreat: Abandon Your Life for Three Months,” and who are led to believe that here they will leave behind all the distractions of “real life” that are keeping them from creating the masterpiece that is in them.
But “here” turns out to be a cavernous and ornate old theater where they are utterly isolated from the outside world-and where heat and power and, most important, food are in increasingly short supply. And the more desperate the circumstances become, the more extreme the stories they tell-and the more devious their machinations become to make themselves the hero of the inevitable play/movie/nonfiction blockbuster that will surely be made from their plight. Haunted is on one level a satire of reality television-The Real World meets Alive. It draws from a great literary tradition-The Canterbury Tales,The Decameron, the English storytellers in the Villa Diodati who produced, among other works,Frankenstein-to tell an utterly contemporary tale of people desperate that their story be told at any cost.
Appallingly entertaining, Haunted is Chuck Palahniuk at his finest-which means his most extreme and his most provocative.
The following are the 19 characters in the main narrative, along with the stories they tell:
|Brandon Whittier||Dog Years||A wheelchair-bound rich man who owns the abandoned theatre and hosts the writers’ retreat. Though he appears to be a very old man, he is in fact a thirteen-year-old boy who suffers from a disease called progeria which makes someone look a lot older than they are. He amassed his wealth by convincing middle-aged married women to sleep with him by telling them that he was an eighteen-year-old virgin who had never seen the touch of a woman and did not want to pass on without knowing how it would feel to be held and loved. He called these very gullible women “Angels” and he then blackmailed them into giving him money in exchange for silence.
I mean, who wants to be known as that charitable woman who had sex with a kid?
|Tess Clark||Post-Production||A housewife called Mrs. Clark and her husband decide to make a porno. They have sex in different positions, all day, every day. They record everything. They do everything to each other. During post-production, they become incredibly disillusioned about how they really look on tape – how fat her rolls are, how middle-aged, how amateur. He leaves her and she finds out she’s pregnant.
In her second story, her now-teenage daughter Cassandra suddenly disappears after looking into a mysterious box. She is found three months later suffering from severe physical and mental trauma (gory details include wood splinters around her anal area). Learning Cassandra was at Whittier’s retreat and that her wounds were self-inflicted, Tess becomes curious as to what her daughter experienced.
Upset Cassandra would never return to normal, Tess later euthanized her daughter by overdose, took her in the woods so that she would not be found. The police find the body and instead of announcing it, they set up a microphone over her decomposing body. The decomposition process is explained in great detail, the decay is nearly done when the microphone captures the voice of her mother returning to the scene of the crime to ask “Why”. Now a fugitive, Tess became Whittier’s assistant to escape the police and learn what her daughter experienced.
|The Nightmare Box|
|Saint Gut-Free||Guts||An abnormally skinny man who, following a masturbation accident involving a pool filter, lost part of his lower intestine. Apparently this is the story which caused quite an uproar when it was first read live – most people fainting around the same spot in the story – the part where in order to survive, Saint Gut-Free chews through his now visible small intestine to break free from the whirpool suction. The content of his guts made real-life people faint.
Apparently – there was a case: https://metro.co.uk/2017/06/05/boy-had-his-intestines-sucked-out-by-pool-filter-6686184/
|Mother Nature||Foot Work||A reflexologist and homeopathic therapy expert who was once employed in prostitution based around her skills with reflexology. She has joined the retreat to escape the Russian Mafia, after becoming an accessory to the murder of her friend’s pimp.
It’s all about that foot job.
|Miss America||Green Room||A pregnant model who wants to become famous by promoting an exercise device on daytime television. This story is some of the milder ones in this collection – mostly how cut-throat day-time TV is and how everyone is struggling with a self-image problem. The picture that Miss America carried with her was of her old chubby self which she used as motivation to exercise and lose weight.|
|Lady Baglady (Evelyn Keyes)||Slumming||An old money woman who, along with her husband, used to pretend to be homeless as a cure for boredom. I mean, what’s more exciting than getting fingered under a bridg
e by your husband while you both stink of unwashed bodies and are wearing rags? After she and her husband witness a crime leading to the murder of a wealthy Brazilian heiress, her husband is murdered by the killers, and a string of homeless people are murdered in the search for her. She comes to the retreat to escape the people who want to kill her.
|The Earl of Slander||Swan Song||A reporter who murders a former child star to frame him for collecting child pornography, so that he can write a Pulitzer Prize-winning article about it. This reminded me of Nightcrawler. If there aren’t any news, make them happen.|
|The Duke of Vandals (Terry Fletcher)||Ambition||An amateur artist who sneaks paintings into museums. He later becomes a respected professional when he murders a famous artist as a favor to the man’s patron. Scarcity creates demand and inflates prices. Nobody wants to buy art from an artist who is inundating the market with generic art. When the targets die, their art price skyrockets and people cash in.
What is currently the issue with the Duke of Vandals is that he, himself, is now producing a LOT of art. And he is noticing someone following him around, possibly to make sure his art price skyrockets due to the early demise of its author.
|Director Denial||Exodus||A social worker which used to work with a woman called Cora Reynolds at a police station. She brings to the retreat her a cat, who she named Cora Reynolds after her dead co-worker. The story she tells is a gruesome one. The original Cora Reynolds killed herself trying to stop police officers from using anatomically correct child dolls for sexual purposes. This is where I found out the difference between anatomically correct dolls and the dolls used by pedophiles.
A very detailed type of anatomically correct doll may be used in questioning children who may have been sexually abused. The use of dolls as interview aids has been criticized, and the validity of information obtained this way has been contested.
|Reverend Godless||Punch Drunk||A former Marine who, with a group of soldiers, raises money by lip-syncing in drag and allowing annoyed people to assault them for a fee.
He used the funds raised to start a war on religion.
|The Matchmaker||Ritual||A man who dresses similar to a cowboy. After his girlfriend denied his marriage proposal, he hired a male prostitute to ruin her idea of the perfect man and change her mind. Rather than being autobiographical, his story is an extended “joke” he learned from his uncles, which is in fact an anecdote about a freak castration accident in a Nazi POW camp that saved their lives.|
|Sister Vigilante||Civil Twilight||A religious woman who carries a bowling ball, with which she may or may not have killed people. I think this was my least favourite story of all of them – mostly due to the clocks and times which pepper the story. I didn’t get the importance other than the alledged killer worked after sun-down.|
|Chef Assassin (Richard Talbott)||Product Placement||A professional chef who literally murders critics who write negative reviews of his cooking. He uses the murders to blackmail knife manufacturers, threatening to tell the world that he uses only their knives to commit his deeds. I mean, all publicity is good publicity, unless you’re selling the preferred murder weapon of a deranged psychopath?
|Comrade Snarky||Speaking Bitterness||A woman who is critical of other women’s looks. As a child, her parents divorced and her mother continually warned her that her father might sexually abuse her. Although he never did, she has been wary and critical of men for her entire life as a result. She came to the writers’ retreat after she and the members of a women’s retreat sexually assaulted an individual; believing the individual to be a post-operative transgender woman, they assaulted her for having been born male. In the end, it is strongly implied the person they assaulted was born biologically female.
It’s pretty hard to read as the support group people are so anti-male that they flare up at the thought of a man among them. This is what toxic feminism looks like, bullying and demeaning other’s hardships because they do not resemble their own.
|Agent Tattletale (Eugene Denton)||Crippled||A man who continued to receive worker’s compensation after he recovered from a severe injury. Killing a private investigator with evidence he has committed fraud, he takes the investigator’s job and is almost killed by a woman on whom he spied. This is like a proper karma is a bitch story.|
|The Missing Link||Dissertation||A member of the Chewlah tribe, who are claimed to be able to transform into sasquatches. Dating a woman who claims a certain plane crash was caused by a female sasquatch, The Missing Link states his sister was the girl in question.|
|The Countess Foresight (Claire Upton)||Something’s Got to Give||A woman with psychic powers who experiences visions from touching objects. She was arrested for murdering the owner of an antique shop, who would not let her touch items; the items included one aborted fetus of Marilyn Monroe located in a milky jar of fluid. Believing the man to be Monroe’s murderer, she killed him to get the antique, only to learn it was fake – a doll floating in liquid. She now wears an electronic tracking bracelet as part of the terms of her parole.|
|The Baroness Frostbite (Miss Leroy)||Hot Potting||A former employee of the White River Lodge, she tried to rescue a chef she employed after he fell into a nearby hot springs, only to lose her lips to frostbite in the process.|
|Miss Sneezy (Lisa Noonan)||Evil Spirits||A woman with chronic sinus problems. She claims to carry an incurable airborne disease, and was contained on an island quarantine facility by the government. Required to wear an insulated suit and oxygen mask when outdoors, she used the airtight suit to escape the island by swimming underwater to the nearest coast.|
What binds all the stories together are glimpses of selfish behaviour, self-mutilation, cannibalism, vandalism, torture and lies. They all want to come out of the retreat with THE BEST and possibly ONLY story to trump all others and good living was never productive to writing a horrendous story, you’d have to suffer and to be lacking of things, material or not. Starving artist to the core, dedicated to the art and nothing else.
The end was pretty surprising and I can’t say I saw it coming with the increasing body count.
Totally 5/5 and would recommend as a halloween reading.