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Book Review: Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

July 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Purple and white face with large eyes and open mouth that looks frightened. Book title and author's name are written over it.Summary:
A bunch of people sign up, individually, for a writer’s retreat. Telling no one where they’re going, they vow to write the next great American novel. They wind up locked away in the opposite of the lap of luxury, however. Trapped in a dusty old theater, they quickly become focused on an entirely different type of story.  What happens to these writers is interspersed with poetry about each person and short stories written by each of them while locked in the retreat.

Review:
I am a huge Palahniuk fan. Fight Club spoke to me when I was at my late teens most intense angst that is indescribable.  To this day, I view the book (and the movie) as exemplary artforms that demonstrate how genre literature can say something incredibly serious and deep.  I also point to Palahniuk as a way to say that vulgarity and horror do not equate to bad writing.  All of which is to say, I’m pretty biased toward being a fan of anything Palahniuk does.  Just so you’re aware.

I struggle with short story collections. I like them to be all connected somehow, even if it’s just by theme, so at first I really liked the idea of a collection of short stories written by people at a writer’s retreat.  It’s a good idea, but it’s not executed very well.  The short stories are awesome! The connecting bits of narrative aren’t so much.  Basically, the writers decide that they should spin what happens at the retreat to be as horrible as possible to help get a movie deal out of it after the fact. So they focus on twisting the facts and committing atrocities against themselves and each other to make for a better story.  I totally got what is being said about writers procrastinating by making drama in their own lives instead of actually writing.  I liked that part. But there also wasn’t enough realness in the connecting bits to keep me interested.  I found myself dreading them whereas I really enjoyed the short stories, which made for an uneven reading experience.

One of the short stories contained in this collection is Palahniuk’s famous “Guts.” The one that makes people faint.  (Palahniuk has made it available online for free here).  This was definitely the best short story in the collection, and I can see why it became so famous.  It also sets the tone for a lot of the stories in the collection. There’s one with people randomly getting smashed in a city. There’s also one about the possible origins of the Sasquatch myth.  My second favorite after “Guts” was actually about an inn near a hot springs in the mountains.  That one grossed me out *almost* as much as “Guts,” and also had something deeper to say, I think.  All of this is to say that if you read and enjoyed “Guts,” you’ll like the short stories in this collection.  They’re gross, horrifying, and stick with you.

Overall, it’s an interesting idea for unifying a short story collection.  Ultimately, though, I would have liked it better as a straight-up short story collection, maybe even including the writer’s retreat as a short story by itself.  This fact might make me rate the book lower, but the inclusion of so many high quality short stories keeps the book itself rating highly.  Grab this if you’ve read and enjoyed “Guts.”

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Brookline Booksmith

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Reading Challenge Wrap-up: Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge 2012

December 24, 2012 2 comments

mia2012badgeAs you all know, the one reading challenge I host is the Mental Illlness Advocacy (MIA) Reading Challenge.  Since we’re into the last week of the year, I’d like to post the 2012 wrap-up.

This year, I read 8 books that count for the challenge, successfully achieving the Aware level.

The books I read and reviewed for the challenge, along with what mental illness they covered, in 2012 were:

  1. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
    PTSD
    4 out of 5 stars
  2. The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
    Mental Retardation
    4 out of 5 stars
  3. Barefoot Season by Susan Mallery
    PTSD
    4 out of 5 stars
  4. Abject Relations: Everyday Worlds of Anorexia by Megan Warin
    Anorexia
    4 out of 5 stars
  5. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
    Depression
    4 out of 5 stars
  6. Haunted by Glen Cadigan
    PTSD
    3 out of 5 stars
  7. January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Schofield
    Schizophrenia
    4 out of 5 stars
  8. Germline by T. C. McCarthy
    Addictive Disorders
    4 out of 5 stars

The books I read covered genres from scifi to thriller to memoir to academic nonfiction to historic fiction.  I’m also a bit surprised to note in retrospect that all but one of these books received four stars from me.  Clearly the books I chose to read for the challenge were almost entirely a good match for me.  It’s no surprise to me that I enjoy running this challenge so much then. :-)

The most unique book for the challenge was The Sparrow.  The scifi plot of first contact with aliens was a very unique wrapping for a book dealing so strongly with mental illness.  Most challenging was Abject Relations: Everyday Worlds of Anorexia, which was my first foray into university-level Anthropology.  Something I’d like to see more of is more memoirs by parents of children with a mental illness, like January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her.  That was an interesting, new perspective for me.  I think I’d also like to read more schizophrenia books next year, as well as books that challenge the gender norms perceived of in certain mental illnesses, such as the idea that eating disorders are female or that alcoholism is male.

If you participated in the challenge this year, please feel free to either comment with your list of reads or a link to a wrap-up post.  I’d love to see what we all successfully read this year!

And if the MIA Reading Challenge sounds like a good match for you, head on over to the challenge’s main page to sign up for the 2013 iteration!

Book Review: Haunted by Glen Cadigan

June 11, 2012 4 comments

Spooky black and white picture.Summary:
Mark is an Iraq War vet with PTSD, so he counts himself lucky when a Gulf War vet gives him the chance to be a security guard at an office tower.  Unfortunately, he’s the night watchman, and he doesn’t seem to be alone in the tower.

Review:
This is a unique, sympathetic story idea that is not as well-executed as it deserves.

Mark is ultimately a well-rounded character, but it takes too long to get to know him in this novella.  Since it is in first-person narrative, he has the option of holding off on telling us about his PTSD symptoms and how they affect him.  While a soldier would certainly most likely be more stoic in a traditionally masculine way, it gets in the way of the reader understanding where Mark is coming from and empathizing with him.  He *tells* us that his PTSD makes his life difficult, but we don’t really ever see it.

Because this is a first person novella, this problem with the characterization gets in the way of the strengths of the scifi/fantasy plot, which is honestly fairly unique.  I was glad I got to the end and saw the surprise reveal, but I certainly wasn’t expecting such a good twist from the rest of the book.

Essentially, the scifi/fantasy element of the book is strong, but the characterization at the center of the first person narrative is weak.  Although Mark is a soldier, Cadigan shouldn’t be afraid to let us see the vulnerability of his PTSD.  Recommended to fans of a unique ghost story looking for a quick read.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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