15 July 2010

Rereading Palahniuk's Haunted

Haunted was my first Palahniuk. I had been meaning to read Fight Club since after the movie came out, but hadn’t ever gotten around to it. In 2006, a coworker of mine offered to lend me a bootleg copy of the Haunted audiobook. I jumped at the chance because not only had I been intending to read Palahniuk for years, but what little I had read about Haunted intrigued me. Not so much the bit about people fainting as the fact that it was a work of horror from an author tagged as a nihilist, which made me hope I was in for the same sort of thrilling, revelatory experience I had as reading Thomas Ligotti’s Grimscribe. Also, though a novel, much of the book was made up short stories, which are generally a much better vehicle for horror.

What I read was both more and less than I expected. The first story (“Guts”) definitely left an impression, as well as some mild nausea. More horrors abounded, often through scenes of bodily destruction as well as some taboo defying behavior. Yet, overall, I was left with mixed feelings. There seemed to be a lot going on with the novel, yet it didn’t really hang together. The relationship between the short stories and the framing narrative seemed questionable, and neither did the social and philosophical commentary seem to mesh well with the events of the story. There was something of a Frankenstein quality to it, not because it was reminiscent of the classic tale from Mary Shelley, but because it felt stitched together. However, with so much going on, I considered the possibility that perhaps it was beyond me, too provocative for my middle class sensibilities while too subtle in its philosophy.

Looking back on it now, it strikes me as the sort of sentiment that must have been the product of a literary inferiority complex. I thought of myself as principally a reader of Lovecraft-type horror trying to branch out a little, so there must be some failure on my part. It couldn’t possibly be that an author as brilliant and respected as Palahniuk had flubbed something as low-brow as a horror story, could it? I confess that this conundrum inspired a certain degree of obsession with the book. I ended up seeking out all of the Palahniuk interviews related to the novel (Well, those available on the web) in the hopes of getting a better sense of the novel and later delved into Palahniuk’s other works. Since then, I’ve often considered revisiting Haunted, and I figured this is a good a time as any.

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