The movie Fight Club, released in 1999, has become a cult classic; but what many people don’t know is that it was based on a book written four years earlier by Chuck Palahniuk. Palahniuk is a best-selling author who has written ten books since then, in addition to short fiction and screenplays. I decided to give Lullaby a try – which, much like Fight Club, is something of a psychological thriller with stirring interpersonal relationships.
Carl Streator is a reporter who lives a very mundane life. Mundane, that is, until he comes across something know as a “culling song,” a lullaby sung in Africa to put sickly infants or crippled warriors out of their misery. Streator quickly finds that by simply reciting this poem in his head, he has the power to kill anyone around him. He struggles to stop himself from thinking it every time someone bothers him, and what’s more, Streator finds himself dangerously entangled with realtor Helen Hoover Boyle and her two underlings – all of whom know about the culling song.
Streator is on a one-man mission to destroy every copy of Poems and Rhymes from Around the World so that the lethal lullaby can spread no further. But along the way, he must figure out if Helen is truly on his side, and if her vegan/Wiccan/con-artist friends Mona and Oyster are only along for the ride to get their hands on the culling song.
The concept was fascinating. I liked watching how the culling song permeated this alternate universe and slowly learning about Streator’s mysterious past as the book went on. It’s a relatively short read, so while I was able to get emotionally invested with a lot of the characters, I didn’t feel that any parts of the novel dragged. For those reasons, and for the sharp, unique way he handles language through imagery and description, I enjoyed this book.
But honestly? Not for me, on the whole. I think this has much to do with Palahniuk’s writing style, which is about as far from ‘conventional’ as you can get. The main character never speaks inside quotation marks, and about half of the novel is in sentence fragments. While this sometimes makes Streator’s declarations more powerful (combined with the fact that it’s in first person, which I like very much), it is ultimately distracting. I also found a few scenes gratuitously graphic.
I’ll say this: Palahniuk writes ‘boy books,’ and so while I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I could see how it would appeal to a different demographic.
His next, much-anticipated novel is entitled Damned and slated to come out this October. Happy reading!