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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Lullaby, by Chuck Palahniuk

Started 1/28, finished 2/2.

It's about something called a culling song, an African lullaby sung to the infirm and dying to pass them on their way gently. When this poem is printed in a book of poems in libraries across America, people start accidentally "putting their children to sleep" with it, and it's up to Carl Streator to find and destroy every copy. Hijinks ensue.

It was a truly great book, but I'm never reading it again. I'm not even sure I can read any more Palahniuk. He crosses lines that I can admire in theory, but which I could never do. Never never never. If that makes me a more pulpy writer, a more shallow person, a less commited storyteller, I'm willing to accept that.

I don't even know if I can recommend this one. The thing is, I have a little hangup, a little problem when a storyteller starts killing children. Maybe it's because I'm a new father, and because I love that kid more than I've ever loved anything in my life. Maybe the idea of losing Alex is the single greatest fear I have. I can't take it when the entertainment I seek, the nourishment I get from good literature, puts my worst fear right in front of my face. I've rarely wept while reading, but the fact that these things can be written with a smirk, the way Palahniuk does it, makes them tears of anger more than sadness.

However, I won't call this frivolous. There is a point to what he does. This book is profound and cathartic, and makes me think more about the little tiny things in life that aren't important, and how much value I (and we as a society) place on them. This crap. These artifacts of uselessness.

When asked what I thought of Revenge of the Sith, my answer is unwaveringly full of bile and vitriol. George Lucas tells stories about knights and fairies and people with laser swords and nice little tales. GEORGE LUCAS SHOULD NOT BE MURDERING CHILDREN. I couldn't get past that, because I don't think he "earned" the right to portray such horrors in his little space opera. I don't criticize Palahniuk for the same reason, because it's redemptive and powerful, and because those who deserve a comeuppance receive it, one way or the other. It's not a frivolous story, and it earns the right. I just won't be able to take it again. If they make a movie, I can guarantee you that I will never watch it.

This book was one giant middle finger to modern American society. It was fractal in its form: one middle finger of a book, made up of middle finger chapters, each sentence of which is a granular middle finger. Palahniuk hates us so much that he becomes a parody of himself, and redeems it all by pointing out that he is no different. There's a line in Fight Club that sums it up:

"We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't."

That line was spoken by Brad Pitt, millionaire and movie god, and he fully aware of the irony. It's self-mocking in equal share with its everything-else-mocking. Lullaby pulls the same rabbit from the same hat: Palahniuk knows more about upholstry materials than I ever will, and he's the one telling me that it's meaningless. That is why I think he is brilliant. Someone who can ride the fence of humanity while it flushes itself down the commode. Someone who can become world famous, rich, successful, and sought-after as the voice of a new generation.

If he weren't so good at it I would hate him. I've known people like this all my life, and I generally can't stand them. These naysayers. These coffeehouse freaks. These iconoclasts. I was probably one of them at some point. Well, if I was waiting for the real thing, I think I've found it.

I may have more to add as this one digests some more.

Book #6 will be The Master, by Colm Tóibín




Blogger incandragon said...

It's good that you can appreciate something that makes you angry and hurt as well done. That's a powerful position that many (most?) people find too uncomfortable to maintain. As is the case in the previous book you reviewed ... when books get close to real-life fears and emotions, when they start pulling the lid off of secret, sealed boxes in your own world, it shake things up. Scary stuff.

Sat Feb 04, 09:36:00 AM  

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