Some people write in the first person. Some write in the third. Some narrators are limited; others are omniscient. Haunted, like Chuck Palahniuk's other books, is all of these, a roulette wheel of voices, some conflicting -- the voices of victims and assailants, women and men, the conspiratorial and the criminally insane -- but all paranoid, neurotic and obsessive. The cadence of his writing is unique -- or, as he himself would put it, "His writing, it has a unique cadence."
He moves in and out of the second person, trying to convince us that these strange, wrecked lives are still people. Or maybe he's trying to convince us that we're just as crazy as they are.
Writers like this leave an indelible mark on their work. His ideas overflow brazenly and brilliantly. You'll never mistake Palahniuk for anyone else, because no one else can write the things he writes, the way he writes them.
However, in Haunted, it is exactly that dominant narrative voice that undermines its status as a "novel." Called a "novel in stories," Haunted is really more like Boccaccio's Decameron, a set of tales connected by a simple plotline.
In Haunted, 13 people, all hiding from their past, have signed up for the writer's retreat from hell. Each writer's masterpiece is a little monument to human wreckage and failed utopianism.
Problem is, back at the retreat between each tale, the authors display none of the nuance of their stories. Each writer becomes uniformly despicable and self-serving.
"Punch Drunk" begins by observing that there was no war until God gave it to us in Genesis, chapter 11. From there, we gradually learn of a scheme to end all wars by ending all religions. The story is beautifully paced and displays the rabid intellect that made The Fight Club such a frightening and engrossing novel. But the author of the story and the person we see in the workshop are two very different people -- one a bold madman; the other, a timorous fame-seeker.
By forcing an overarching thesis onto 23 narratives, Palahniuk makes all these authors -- all these autobiographies -- sound exactly the same.
So why call it a novel? Why make up the writer's retreat? Why the autobiography angle? Why not just call them short stories? Short stories are good enough. Especially when they're this good.