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Haunted unsavory and unsatisfying

I have come to expect a certain moment in a novel by Chuck Palahniuk: a moment that is so horrifically disgusting that it makes me cringe. I find myself reflexively grabbing on my own body parts that have just been grossy mutilated in the novel, as if to protect them from the same fate.

Haunted, Palahniuk’s sixth novel, is made up almost exclusively of these moments.

Haunted is composed of 23 short stories told in the context of a larger story, like The Canterbury Tales, for example. These stories are told by a group of aspiring writers who have gone on a “Writers’ Retreat.” They get locked in an old theater for three months, and during this time they are to work on and complete their masterpieces.

However, unmotivated and uninspired to write, the writers try to turn their experience at the retreat into a brilliant story. To do this, they tamper with the food, the furnace, the lights, themselves and each other.

The context in which the stories are told becomes grotesque enough, but the short stories themselves take it much farther. Maybe too far.

Palahniuk gets our stomachs churning early with Saint Gut-Free’s account of what happens to him while gratifying himself at the bottom of a pool.

Even more disturbing was Director Denial’s story about police officers sexually abusing the station’s anatomically correct dolls, and the steps one woman takes to stop it.

Palahniuk’s works, including Fight Club and Lullaby, have always been shocking. It’s what he’s great at. But in Haunted, more than in any of his other books I’ve read, it seems that his sole purpose in writing is to shock. It is hard to discern what other purpose he could have, unless it is to show readers just how sick people can be.

This is not to say that some of the stories in Haunted are not well-written and even enjoyable at times. I really liked Sister Vigilante’s suspenseful story of mysterious and gruesome twilight murders; and Mrs. Clark’s stories regarding her daughter were simply heartbreaking.

There are some darkly hilarious moments in the book as well, like Chef Assassin’s letter to Kutting-Blok Knife Products, or when we learn just how old Mr. Whittier really is.

But in the end, there is just too much to bear: too much murder, too much sex, too much depravity and too much detail. And no redemption.

Haunted‘s unsatisfying ending just adds insult to injury. After enduring the book’s 400 twisted and desensitizing pages, I was desperate for some closure.

Readers who want to be shaken up would be better off reading one of Palahniuk’s other novels, in which he shocks the reader to tell a story, rather than tells a story to shock the reader.

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