Saturday, February 15, 2014

Book Review: Haunted

HAUNTED: A novel of short stories

Haunted is a book by Chuck Palahniuk. Even though it is primarily composed of short stories, it’s not an anthology. It’s a novel using a frame-narrative technique to interweave the stories into a singular work. It follows a group of writers in an artist’s retreat, where the writers are isolated with minimal heat, power, and food. Soon enough, they become desperate, and so are their tales.

Since I haven’t read much of Chuck Palahniuk’s work, I’m not used to his writing style. His style is the first thing that I noticed while reading Haunted. It is somewhat rough, with the extensive use of fragments and run-ons to communicate his ideas. It is the kind that grows on you, though. And once you get the hang of it, you can speed-read the book because the writing style is informal enough to grasp easily.

Putting the writing style aside, I have mixed feelings for Haunted. Since it is primarily composed of short stories, it can be somehow considered as an anthology, and like any other anthologies, Haunted fluctuates in quality. Some stories featured are better than the others are.

The stories I particularly like are Guts, Exodus, The Nightmare Box, and Obsolete. I find them to be very well-written. Guts is logically grotesque, and Exodus is not far behind. The Nightmare Box has an interesting character and a haunting mystery. Obsolete is downright weird, but written well.

The stories I particularly dislike are Ambition, Punch Drunk, and Product Placement. Ambition and Produce Placement have incredibly weak plots with grotesque touches so they could pretend to be interesting. Punch Drunk just don’t make sense to me.

Other stories not mentioned here are either forgettable or grotesque just for the sake of it -- oh, and/or sexual, just for the sake of it too. But I admit that these themes still spark some interest in the materials; I’m just saying that they are the neutral group -- stories I don’t particularly like or dislike.

This inconsistency in the quality of stories is the biggest flaw of Haunted.

Author's photo in the book
Another flaw I’ve found is the weak story that binds these stories -- the artist’s retreat. In theory, it is actually a pretty interesting concept. But my problem is the lack of plot development. There is too little going on in the retreat. I would go as far to say that the book could be about eighty pages shorter if the narratives where practically nothing happens are removed.

The narratives are not all-bad, however. Its greatest strength is the fact that it portrays a lot about human nature, especially when man is in pain -- desperation, social distastefulness, murder, death, among many others. These themes are executed quite well, and they form very dark characters.

Another thing I like overall is the incorporation of Cassandra. It’s nothing technical, though. It’s more of a personal liking. I just really like how Chuck Palahniuk utilized a recurring story arc that I could subscribe to.

Overall, Haunted is a stomach-churning read. It has some of the most disgusting things -- dynamic, disgusting things -- I’ve read. And the best thing about these disgusting things is that they’re real, that they could be found in the real world if you just look hard enough. These are presented in prose that is very informal but easily understandable. If that’s up your alley, then you better read this book, but also take note that the quality of stories is inconsistent.

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