Book Review – Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Mystery
Publication Date: April 11th, 2006
Publisher: Anchor

Haunted, the infamous grotesque burlesque – there are no ghosts left skulking behind in this show, only the bitter chill left by the horrific acts of the living.
Gentle and harmless as being on the receiving end of a sober vivisection, this is not an easy book to stomach for a lot of people. It’s a stroll through the internal corridors of horrible people, down to the swampy, mold-lined stomach of the theatre they trap themselves in to get famous or die trying. Haunted is not for the sensitive heart, but it paints the darkness of people uncomfortably well.

A group of writers join a retreat to escape their lives for awhile, but they don’t know it involves being locked in an abandoned theatre. They are given amenities and relative comfort, but it’s not long before the isolation brings out their bad pasts and worse natures. Haunted is a novel split into short stories regaling how each character ended up alone in a rotting old building with just their personal ghosts to prove they were ever alive. Some have murdered people, others wish they had murdered someone because what they’ve been through is worse, but nobody is clean or unbroken.

Five stars is a controversial rating for a controversial book, I suppose. Infamously, parts of this book are known for making people faint or vomit during live readings (“Guts”!), but it’s not like that consistently and the imaginative premise is worth sloughing through a bit of gross details. I don’t feel bad for rating it five stars. I really loved it, enough that it’s etched its way into my favourites. Maybe I saw it with an abnormal eye?

I feel like the difference between loving and loathing it could be as fragile as how disheartened with life you feel at that moment in time, so I can see how someone feeling optimistic or who disliked dark reads would hate Haunted, but I find it kind of beautiful. Beautiful like a dead enigma floating in a dusty old jar – the details make it quite hideous to think about but also it feels valuable to know the story

“Hot Potting”, “Obsolete”, and Mrs. Clark’s saga are all potent stories, but you’ll be more familiar with the notorious “Guts”, or perhaps “Exodus”, which in my opinion tops “Guts” as far as disgust goes. “Speaking Bitterness” will uproot your organs a bit. It makes a point about acceptance and gender that is hard to discuss anyway with fatal bluntness, but it’s horrific and difficult to read.

Most of Haunted‘s staying power is from its frank depiction of human nature at its worst. The visceral stories like “Guts” are one thing, but the psychological, like “Speaking Bitterness” or “Exodus” are the ones that leave a dark impression. I don’t find it a “comedy” like the sadist blurbs for this book seem to. There’s a few uncomfortable laughs seeking the tongue, but it’s definitely a horror drama and a bitter, bitter depiction of social illness as well. The depths to where a person’s selfishness can sink them have no visible bottom, but it’s bad fortune just as often that lands someone in a situation where they are forced to create their ghosts.

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