Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

I have never read any other books by Palahniuk, although I have thought about reading Fight Club before. This one was suggested as a compliment to the non-fiction book that we are reading in our book club (Collapse by Jared Diamond). The idea is to go for post-apocalyptic type novels, since Collapse is about the destruction of human societies as a result of environmental factors, and how humans react to them. Hence our choice of a not-quite-post-apocalyptic story that is about ethics and morality, about who gets to decide who lives and who dies; it's about the constant need for power that all humans have.
The book reveals its plot over time. The narrator is telling the story, but he occasionally brings the reader into his present time, which forces you to try to figure out what has happened in the mean time. The narrator is a man who has discovered a culling song, a magic spell that was sung to dying warriors or sick elders to help them pass into the next world. It is now found in a book of children's poems, and is sung to them as a lullaby, killing them in their sleep without the parents ever understanding what was responsible for their deaths. He makes it his mission to destroy every copy of the book that was published that contains the culling song. Meanwhile, he has to control his own growing desire to use the song that he now knows causes death. Involved in his story are a real estate agent who deals in haunted houses, a New-Age witch, and her vegan, eco-terrorist boyfriend.
The story makes some very surprising turns before the end, but by the time it ends, it has arrived where you expected it to. Palahniuk can be very difficult to read at times; his descriptions are occasionally incredibly gruesome, and some of the violence seems a little bit unnecessary. But I think that parts are purposefully difficult to read. It should be difficult for us to confront our inability to be silent and think for ourselves. It should be difficult for us to consider how we might handle ourselves if we had the power to kill with our mind, if we had been responsible, unknowingly, for the deaths of people that we loved. Lullaby forces you to think about the choices that we make, and to think about who is ultimately responsible for our feelings and desires.

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