Chuck Palahniuk is a master among contemporary writers. His latest novel, Haunted, is a novel of short stories, woven together with one framing plot: a group of writers enticed by an advertisement-“Writers Retreat: Abandon your life for three months”-to gather, write their one work of genius, their one masterpiece, leaving behind all that hinders them from creating. Twenty-three stories, soaked and dripping in Palahniuk’s grotesquely detailed imagery, linked by two ideas: everyone’s got a story to tell, everyone’s got something to hide. These writers find out all too quickly, though, that this retreat is not about sitting out under the open sky while writing inspired and uninterrupted words; to create their masterpiece they must suffer through food shortages, uncontrollable heat and power, and their own perverse sabotages to make their desperate stories more sympathetic, to make themselves the heroes.
Palahniuk lives and breathes in the short story format, focusing on the small details that bring that vomit taste of orange juice and coffee to the back of your throat. He has refined his palate for dark humor in Haunted, with tight control over each word, each line and each page. One of the stories, “Guts,” is so lucid that people fainted in their seats during readings given by Palahniuk, after its first printing in Playboy. The short stories are so strong that, at times, they overshadow the novel as a whole.
Haunted is a must read for any fan of Palahniuk’s previous works. For anyone not acquainted with his other writing, I would recommend reading one of his previous novels, such as Diary or Choke, before reading this. Haunted contains some of Palahniuk’s best writing, even if it is not the strongest overall novel that he has written. A warning: be prepared for a visceral reaction.