Russell Brunelle (russellb) wrote,
Russell Brunelle

Scary stories

I like giving evenings themes, and since last night I was staying in an isolated small town motel which was suffering power outages, I thought I'd go with "scary stories."

First, I read a feature article in the San Diego Reader about the day-to-day reality of crack addiction, by a talented writer who ended up living the life of a homeless crack addict for a year. So, here's the resulting scary fact about crack culture: if you find yourself in a crackhouse waiting for "the man" to arrive (i.e. the in-house dealer), and the other crack addicts waiting there with you start passing a pipe around, you may be endangering your life if you refuse. Basically, although you might (wisely) want to avoid feeling indebted to anyone, refusing a hit in a crackhouse is generally interpreted by its patrons as meaning you're a narc. Hence, by doing so you may be putting yourself at grave risk of a quick and violent end (the author of the article himself made this newbie mistake but fortunately survived the resulting beating).

Next, I read the critically-acclaimed 2005 horror novel Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk (note: this is the same novelist who wrote Fight Club). The last time I'd read a horror novel was as a child, and if I remember correctly that one was Stephen King's Pet Cemetery. So, even though horror isn't a fiction genre I'm normally drawn to, I'd become curious what the state of the art had become.

Although parts of Mr. Palahniuk's novel (in particular some of the off-the-deep-end behavior by the novel's main characters which started taking place about halfway through) were quite graphic, I did find myself surprised that this novel didn't fundamentally depend on gore to engage the reader, as contemporary horror films tend to; rather, the horror in this novel stemmed from convincing yet disturbing observations about the human condition.

The writing quality was indeed top notch, and very much in the postmodern literary style (i.e. told from multiple viewpoints such that you have no basis to discern which viewpoint is "real"). Although I've never been convinced that the core philosophical underpinnings of postmodernism are valid, my attitude is that at least when it comes to fiction (which isn't meant to be "true" anyway) there's no harm in going along for the ride.

In short I do recommend Haunted, although unless you're a fan of the horror genre I wouldn't actually advise reading it from beginning to end: instead, I think your best bet is to go for the paired "poems" and "stories" for each main character which together comprise the bulk of the novel (skipping the "Saint" story if gore disturbs you). The actual narrative that ties these poems/stories together is weak by comparison to them, even though towards the end the narrative does pull together quite a few key points that were brought out in the character's stories.

And hey: if the postmodern worldview is correct, and indeed no perspective is privileged, then the author has no basis upon which to complain if you skip around his book :)
Comments for this post were disabled by the author