Lullaby - Chuck Palahniuk
Published: September 2002
First Read: October 2002
Second Read: February 2005
Capsule: The author of Fight Club explores his signature cocktail of grief-driven desperation, this time through modern magick, unchecked apathy and the power of suggestion. It's a fast read, and one of my favourites.
Trade Paperback: 272 pages
The fourth of Chuck Palahniuk's descents into the darkness of the human condition, this is perhaps his most imaginative book. Where Fight Club simply extrapolates Generation X's lack of direction or purpose, Lullaby uses the mystery of crib death to launch an exploration of loss, guilt, self and magick (the last of which is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "an action or effort undertaken because of a personal need to effect change, especially as associated with Wicca or Wiccan beliefs").
Reporter Carl Streator finds a wholly unsecular similarity between instances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome that has eluded law enforcement and medical personnel. Every family suffering the SIDS-related loss of a child has inadvertantly used an ancient African culling song printed in a book of children's rhymes; the song, used by long-lost tribes to give painless death to the old and infirm, has been sung for years to countless babies by well-meaning parents, something Streator means to stop.
To test his theory, Streator ends up killing his editor -- every writer's dream, right? -- and soon finds himself able to kill passersby and even annoying radio hosts with a mere thought of the culling song.
He meets a bizarre upwardly mobile real estate agent who repeatedly sells haunted houses to unknowing buyers, her new age assistant and herecoterrorist boyfriend along the way. Palahniuk is nothing if not the master of extremity -- he takes his story so far along its arc that it's in danger of flying off on an uncontrollable tangent.
On second thought, the entirety of Lullaby is a tangent. That, perhaps, is Palahniuk's forte: his texts reek of familiarity, the feeling that despite their fantastic nature, they're utterly real, completely possible. Like that niggling feeling that you have to shake off, that yeah, Elvis could be alive, Palahniuk's books have the feel of the real story that inspires supermarket tabloid excess.