Do You Have the Guts?

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For those who have never read Haunted, the experience that awaits you lacks comparison to any other book by Chuck Palahniuk.  Crafted in the style of what would happen if John Waters paid homage to The Canterbury Tales, the reader is shaken by stories that are grotesque, humorous, and depressing. Described as a novel of short stories, Haunted opens with our lead characters gathering on a bus for a once in a lifetime writer’s retreat.

At their destination, the aspiring authors discover the retreat is an abandoned theater where they are expected to write their masterpiece.  With reluctance, they proceed forward, hoping this experience will help them produce a bestseller.  Once entering the theater, they are locked inside for three months.  To intensify their experience further, the retreat’s host Mr. Whittier, and his assistant Tess Clark, deprive their guests of sleep, food, water, and warmth, until someone produces a successful story.

With the stage set, each chapter unfolds in three sections: the wrap around story, a free verse poem introducing one author at a time, and a story narrated by the author who introduced themselves by poem.  From here, each of the seventeen authors try to outdo the other by making their story more shocking, depressing, or repulsive than the last.

What intrigued me most were the pseudonyms given to the authors, and how their names foreshadowed their stories.  From this motley crew, my favorite characters include: Saint Gut Free, Mother Nature, Lady Baglady, The Earl of Slander, Director Denial, Conrad Snarky, Baroness Frostbite, Reverend Godless, Tess Clark, and Mr. Whittier.  The rest of the characters are divided between mediocre and unappealing.  Although some of the stories weren’t as good as others, the wrap around tale kept me on the edge of my seat.

The first story, Guts by Saint Gut Free, stirs emotions similar to what one might expect if a grenade fell into a septic tank. Holding strong with its infamous ability to make readers faint, I consider this piece to be a rite of passage that will prolapse the soul.  Considering I am the sicko that I praise myself to be, I found a free audio upload of this story on YouTube, which I shared on social media.  This entry is my favorite and everyone should experience it blindly.  If you would like to lose your innocence, click HERE for the audio of Guts.

Foot Work by Mother Nature isn’t as grotesque as Guts, but it provides a unique scenario. I became enthralled with the originality this tale had in aspects that were sexual and crime related. By the end of the story, I questioned the reality of the circumstance, and it made me want to explore the pros and cons of reflexology.

Slumming by Lady Baglady was a story that utilized maximum intensity without relying on extreme sex or gore. This segment presents a role-playing scenario between a wealthy married couple, which soon goes from fun to frightening.  As the story concludes, it leaves the reader with an old-school sense of dread, adding a whole new level of fear to being homeless.

Swan Song by The Earl of Slander reminds me of an adulterated Aesop’s Fables.  The segment focuses on The Earl’s career as a reporter.  Down on his luck, he decides to further his career by planting a kiddie porn collection in the home of a retired child star.  Before the story can end happily for The Earl, an ironic twist causes him to regret his actions.  In a sense, the ending is delivered like a tasteless joke that is amusing, despite its poor taste.

Exodus by Director Denial is my 2nd favorite story in Haunted.  To me, this story focuses on how some people harbor dark perversities, or secrets, and can keep these private thoughts buried deep, until something allows them to indulge. The scenario here includes two preteen sex dolls, an eccentric case worker, and a horny police squad.  Although this segment is deeply perverted, it does provide dark humor.

Speaking Bitterness by Conrad Snarky was a difficult pill to swallow. It was degrading, and deeply saturated in bigotry.  Yet, it was my third favorite story as it focuses on adult bullying and instigators.  In my opinion, this entry is the most powerful of the book and I can see it confusing the emotions of someone who has discriminated.

Hot Potting by The Baroness Frostbite is a piece that grants backstory to her disfigured appearance.  In this action packed, survivalist themed sequence, I was on the edge of my seat until the final word.  Although predicting the tragedy long before it unfolded, I continued reading with anticipation.  Once the inevitable happened, my skin crawled due to Palahniuk’s cringeworthy prose.

Punch Drunk by Reverend Godless tells about the reverend being an ex-military man who plans to get rich from lip sinking to Celine Dion while in drag. However, that is not the extent of his plan and his reasoning for getting rich is just as intriguing. Written to not be humorous, grotesque, or shocking, this story comes off as nothing more but depressing. Yet, its motive is an untouched concept that will hold one’s interest.

Post-Production, The Nightmare Box, Poster Child, and Cassandra are all stories by Tess Clark, which chronicle her life and the life of her abducted daughter Cassandra.  Determined to learn what happened to her daughter, Tess returns to the location where Cassandra was found, which is also the very spot in which she is now trapped.  The number of stories that Tess was provided surprised me, since all other characters were granted fewer spots. Despite her frequent returns throughout the book, her interesting life could have been expanded into a full novel.  In her stories, she shares about her career as a porn star, her botched plastic surgery, the abduction and rescue of her self-mutilating daughter, and a mercy killing.

Last, but not least, the stories: Dog Days and Obsolete chronicle the life of, and is told by, Mr. Whittier. These stories give a solid background to our villain who has orchestrated this torturous writer’s retreat.  They detail how he received the theater and how he blackmailed his way into wealth. Although it seems that he will continue orchestrating to the end of the book, an unseen turn of events happens during the frame story, making matters go from bad to worse.

Out of the 23 stories, 14 of these were enjoyable, and the others did very little to keep my attention.  Although some stories lacked, the characters who told them played vital roles in the frame story itself.  From a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the worst and 10 being the best, I give this an 8, mostly because of the stories by Miss America, The Duke of Vandals, The Matchmaker, Sister Vigilante, Chef Assassin, Agent Tattletale, The Missing Link, The Countess Foresight, and Miss Sneezy falling short.  Yet, after factoring in the creativity of this book, the likable stories, and the pacing of the frame story, the better content outweighs the boring.

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