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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

TBR Day: Lullaby (Chuck Palahniuk)

Five months have passed, and I have yet to participate in Avid Book Reader's monthly To Be Read (TBR) Day. Well, today that's changing.

I have a bad history of borrowing books and not returning them. Mister Troll is well aware of this (and yet still lends me stuff). I have another friend, Dana, who has yet to learn of my tendencies. She recently lent me three books, all of which I immediately placed at the top of my TBR pile in the high hopes of actually reading and returning them in a decent time frame.

One of these books is Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk. He's the guy who wrote Fight Club, which was made into a movie that I really enjoyed. I thought this would be an equally fun read, so I dug in.

Set in modern time, the story follows Carl Streator, who inadvertently learns a lullaby that kills whoever it is sung to. Reproduced in an obscure book of international children's songs, the ancient African "culling song," is a magic spell originally created to be sung to malnourished infants or dying warriors to ease them into death.

Through his investigations of the song, Carl meets Helen Hoover Boyle, a real-estate agent specializing in haunted houses. She knows the spell, which she uses in a number of unique, if not completely ethical, ways. Carl, being the hero, confronts her about it. However, he learns that having the power to kill anyone at will is a dangerously seductive ability, and one not easily controlled, especially after you have internalized it enough that you can do it by just thinking someone dead.

The main plot of the book focuses on unraveling how this spell works and its ramifications, followed by a cross-country hunt for all remaining copies of the book containing it, as well as the original book of spells in which it was found. A couple more minor characters join in to assist the search and add some dramatic tension: Mona, Helen's employee and witch/occultist, and Mona's naturalist anti-society witch boyfriend, Oyster.

I found that I enjoyed much of the beginning. The culling song is a very simple, yet interesting idea. The tragedy of the song being distributed incorrectly as a lullaby, and thus read inadvertently by parents to their loved ones, really resonated with me, and worked to alternately horrify and sadden me (and I consider anything that can move me in such a way to be a good thing). Carl and Helen are both usually likable despite their deep character flaws. I found it interesting, albeit a little disturbing, to imagine myself in their positions.

However, the book has some big problems. There are many sections that try to be clever or trendily shallow (or just plain weird) and they feel forced. This gets annoying quickly, and even though I smirked a few times, I often found myself tempted to skip ahead. Then there are Oyster's preachy anti-society screeds. Basically, anything he says can be counted on to grate. The funny thing is that some parts of Oyster's message make sense, but the whole thing is so overdone that it induces eye rolls. And my annoyance only increased as the main character grudgingly accepted and repeated the message as if it was the author's.

Continuing the bad, later in the book some of the motivations, especially those of the minor characters, seem unrealistic. There's one bizarre scene at the end that I can only describe as garbage. Not only was the antagonist's motivation implausible, but the scene really reinforced the character's smarmy know-it-all jackass image. It did not help that the antagonist's method was so over-the-top and physically improbable that I said out loud, "This is stupid."

I enjoyed Fight Club. This book made me reevaluate the movie, as I saw similarities in the message and style. How much of my enjoyment of Fight Club hinged on me being an angsty, "nonconformist" teenager, more open to anti-establishment ideals and trendy shallowness (the backlash against a previous "deep" phase)? Maybe I'll have to go re-watch it and find out.

3 comments:

avidbookreader said...

I love reading your reviews. Thanks for participating,B.G.! You know, I have The Traveler in my stacks here. Have you read it?

Keishon

Billy Goat said...

I have not read The Traveler. I just looked it up on Amazon and noticed it is by John Twelve Hawks. I've heard good things about his writing, and it looks like this is the first series he's published, so this must be what I heard about. As a matter of fact, I have his name written down in the notebook I carry in my back pocket, under the heading, "Authors to Check Out."

I'll be sure to keep an eye out for your upcoming review to see if it is worth my time. That's assuming you get to it before me. I know how big TBR stacks can get! ;)

Also, I have to say that TBR Day was a great idea. I'm happy to participate! Thanks for reading!

avidbookreader.com said...

sorry! You know, I always get these two authors confused for some reason. My bad. I plan to read it but not anytime soon. But Chuck Palahniuk - that name is soooo stuck in my head for some reason. --Keishon