Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk: A Review

To Mr. Palahniuk: I can guess you’re every story. A darkly romantic, apocalyptic warning against cultural materialism. Okay, Chuck. We get it. Stop shoving it down our throats like we’re whores with your every book. And don’t be mad at me. I loved you once, and if you try—maybe, maybe—you can win me back and many other of your old readers, but that’s a damned tall order. The thimble full of respect I have for you is a sieve. The truth is, now that I am in my mid-twenties and have read close to 150 other books not by you, I realize your stuff is one-note, and has often been done before and deeper and better. Now your work seems preachy to me, and I hate author’s putting entire chapters in “italics” for very loose reasons. You do this in “Lullaby.” Some chapters, without any dialogue or setting, we’re just in character’s head, never specified, and talk at about philosophies. I realize now we’re just in your head. Like a sixteen year old who just discovered pot and whose favorite movie is still motherfucking “Donnie Darko”. Grow up. Short sentences. Same thing. Every book. Not original or fresh anymore. Stop. Please.

And stop starting new lines every couple sentences and leaving it solo, like this.

When you put a single sentence on its own, lingering with its own indent, multiple times on a page, well, you lose its dramatic impact. Not everything can be that important. Not every little sharp, witty thing is that sharp and witty.

The Review: Palahniuk wrote this book in 21 days, and learning that was kind of a revelation for me. It did seem like he wrote it in 21 days, read it over once and inserted a few chapters in the earlier section to account for some ideas he had along the way, then called it good and cashed his check.

Disclaimer—to be fully honest, I only read most of this. Take that however you will, but do not discount my review for it. I did read the first and last 75 pages, but the middle 120 pages of this book?—I almost killed myself. And when I was done I felt kind of dirty, like I’d just wasted five hours watching wrestling on TV. You’re like: “Okay, so that just happened, but so what? I could have done something else but I didn’t.”

If your whole point is to waste five hours, I guess this will do the trick, but there have to be better options out there. Next time I want to waste my time, I’ll do it with an author who is didn’t write the same novel in four slightly different ways. In his defense, and this is all I will give him, this was his fourth book and a departure from his more “grounded” works that could actually occur in the real world. He took a creative gamble and took this one deeper into fantasy, and that must be appreciated and respected. While that is all “fine and good”, it’s a shame the book was not fine or good. It was average at best. At Best.

Palahniuk’s premise is certainly intriguing (albeit difficult to swallow at times), but he stumbles with the execution. The culling song presents the kernel of an interesting idea, but the book feels padded, and I mean padded!, even at just over 250 pages with plenty of blank ones purposely scattered throughout. (Whenever a page started on an even page, he left that page blank and started the new chapter on the odd page more than half way down the page. Probably publishers fault to make a short novel feel more substantial.)

Simply put, this is an idea that would have worked much better as a short story. You can tell this tale in 30 pages like a Grimm Fairy Tale without any dialogue, or even a 120 page novella. Let me know if you want me to rewrite this for you, Chuck.

Palahniuk is clumsy in communicating his major themes, taking a heavy-handed approach that simply involves bludgeoning the reader into submission through sheer repetition. And repetition. And repetition. Have I made it clear he repeats a lot of his ideas? So, Palahniuk is becoming repetitive as a writer. He has an incredibly unique voice, but it hasn’t expanded much since “Fight Club” and “Survivor”. Hell, even “Invisible Monster” was great when I first read it, but now that I’ve read five of his other books over the past decade, I’m terrified to re-read “Invisible Monster” because I have grown as a reader and may find it to be total garbage. While reading “Lullaby“, I was suddenly struck by an observation — all of the characters sound exactly alike. And I mean in this novel and all of his other novels. The themes of nihilism, media saturation, and salvation-through-destruction are used and re-used, over and over. I understand that authors have common themes that they revisit, but after a while, it begins to feel more like a rut than a style. Palahniuk needs to show more growth in this area quickly or he runs the risk of being seen as a one-trick pony. And it’s sad, because I really liked that pony at first. We all did. But I grew up, and now I want a horse.

Any rumination in his head got repeated every couple chapters, just in case you’re reading at a speed of one page a day and need reminding. Whole chapters feel like untouched drafts. Who is this guy’s editor? The average chapter length is between 3-6 pages, and there are 44. That’s 44 chapters in a 250 page book with frequent blank pages. Yikes.

Overall, the book is interesting, but it never rises above the level of just “OK”. You could argue that it’s just fiction and for Palahniuk to make a point, even a really obvious one, perhaps he feels he must take the ends of his stories somewhere strange and foreign and impossible and we are supposed to accept it like a fable or an allegory. We’re supposed to “just get it.”

Without being too pessimistic, I can say the best days are behind him and I won’t be reading any more of his books. Especially his last one, “Damned” — I heard it was shit-ball city. I’ve read most of his work, so I know what’s up; including Invisible Monsters, Choke, Haunted, Survivor, Diary, Fight Club, Rant (really shitty), Snuff, and now Lullaby. I won’t even touch his more recent “Tell-All”—nor “Pygmy”—based on horror stories from friends and less than favorable reviews from, well, everyone (amateur and professional reviews, digitally and printed, and Amazon reviews). The synopses are cringe-worthy.

I think I’m nauseous. A little Palahniuk goes a long way. If you’ve never read Palahniuk before, I’d recommend reading “Survivor” (4/5) and then “Choke” (3.5/5) and maybe “Fight Club” which I blasphamously give (3.5/5) whose Fincher film from 1999 is far superior. Which, bytheway, how that incredible screewriter turned that book into such a coherent movie I will never know. I read it after I saw the film and couldn’t believe how scatterbrained it was.

Skip “Lullaby”, then, please, do what I did not and quit while you’re ahead.

Score “Lullaby”: 2/5

Avg. Score of most Chuck Palahniuk novels: 3/5

For more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Palahniuk#Criticism   and  http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/fantasticfiction/lullaby.htm

p.s. the background of this story, as in what was occuring in Chuck’s real life at the time, is for more interesting and sad than the book; but knowing that his father died does explain why Chuck is Chuck and writes how he does. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lullaby_(novel)

 

MH

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