The first book of 2012 is Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. It is a series of short stories all taking place within the locked confines of a Writers’ Retreat concocted by the old and mysterious Mr. Whittier.
Would you abandon your life for three months to create your masterpiece? Just one suitcase, a pre-dawn bus to Somewhere Else full of strangers, and three months of isolation. The stories are told by the writers, prisoners to this unique promise; stories to pass the time, ignore their restraints, and to declare themselves the true hero of the big, grand finale. “The Story of Us,” as they call it, the story of a group of people peppered with unusual personalities such as Lady Baglady, Mother Nature, and The Missing Link. The mythology that will make them famous and rip them to shreds.
I loved this book. I just really enjoy Chuck Palahniuk. (Rant, a story I voraciously audiobooked in the summer of 2010, is one of the most intricately told stories about childhood, home, time travel, and demolition derbies you will ever find. Do it ASAP.) He is quickly becoming my favorite author in the way he is able to sew stories without ever dropping a stitch. No name is a throwaway name, no questionable eccentricity is ever left unexplained by the last page.
There is tons of squicky business in all of his books, though this one probably takes the cake. Stories like “Guts” and “Hot Potting” make it hard to eat lunch afterward. All the poems that precede the short stories, they left me breathless. They are actually quite moving character studies amid a torrent of bloodshed and sexual depravity.
One of the most compelling elements of this book, besides the band of increasingly diabolical characters, is the atmosphere. Without going into much detail – discovering the beautifully molding, surreal setting of the book is a delightful revelation I would hate to deprive a would-be reader of – it is a place where it is easy to imagine everyone’s demons coming out to play. The oppression in the details of the mundane, of the abruptly bizarre, is like a character in and of itself.
I have only one issue with this book, though I suppose it is an aspect of the story which is somewhat open to interpretation. It is a narrative detail at the very end – if any of you have read Haunted, please let me know if you have had similar thoughts.