Sunday, December 04, 2005

49. Lullaby

by Chuck Palahniuk

I’m not sure if I loved Lullaby, or if I’m just kind of eh about it. It’s the kind of book that started out wonderfully, but by the last few pages I wasn’t sure if I liked the way it ended up. The beginning part felt like a wonderful new episode of The X-Files, with this great mystery going on and our protagonist personally affected by it, but in the end there was all this mysticism that made it more like a seventh season X-Files instead of a good second or third season episode. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t completely enjoy the book, as I read over half of it in one sitting, but I just wish it had ended differently or, at least, felt more tied together after that first half.

Carl Streator is a newspaper reporter who’s stumbled upon a passage of words that results in the death of anyone to whom it’s spoken. Streator’s wife and daughter were killed when he read this to them and, nearly twenty years later, his empty life is a-shambles until he crosses paths with Helen Hoover Boyle. Helen is a realtor who specializes in selling haunted houses to the unwitting public. She’s often heard saying such things into her cell phone as, “The head’s gone now!” Helen’s own husband and son were killed when she read the culling song and Streator turns to her for help. It turns out that the song can be found in a children’s book, “Poems and Rhymes Around the World.” Helen and Streator make it their mission to destroy every copy of the book so that no one will ever be able to recite the song again.

There were some highly amusing parts in this story, mainly when Streator first learns of the song’s power. Not only does he kill his editor, just as an experiment, but he kills every person who crosses his path and disturbs him in some way. This includes people blocking his way in the street and a married man flirting with a young woman in a bar. It’s like it’s Streator’s own form of justice, but because he hasn’t yet learned to control it – so great is his subconscious that he need only recite the song in his mind and direct it at someone – he simply tells people not to piss him off…he’s got an anger management problem.

What I didn’t like about the book was the way it got all mystical and magicky at the end. Helen and Streator go on a search for the grimmoire – the original book of “Poems and Rhymes” – that they hope, once destroyed, will take the power of the culling song with it. Mona, Helen’s literal witch of an assistant, and Oyster, Mona’s boyfriend, go with them to help find the book of spells. There’s this whole part where Helen and Streator go to Mona’s apartment for a meeting with other witches – Helen, in her state of self-absorption, hilariously insists on drinking the “sacrifice” – that I didn’t see as necessary to the larger story. And once the group has found the grimmoire, Helen casts a love spell on Streator and the two float into the air while they consummate their affection. I could have done without that.

I will say that Palahniuk is, as always, ingenious with his storytelling. There’s this twist that happens at the end to which we’ve been privy since the beginning, only we haven’t been aware of it. It makes the seemingly misplaced, present day passages click right into place. And Palahniuk’s mastery of the first-person narrative is just as strong here as it is in his other works. Well…the other two that I’ve read anyway (Choke and the requisite Fight Club). So, even though I wasn’t totally satisfied with Lullaby, I’m just as much of a Palahniuk fan as I ever was. The man may occasionally falter, but I intend to be there with him through both the ups and downs.

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