This is both one of the best and one of the worst novels I have encountered. But mostly it is one of the worst.
The writing is powerful and literally visceral. There are many startlingly and original ideas. At least three of the stories are true classics, as instantly iconic as, say, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery".
"Haunted" has incredibly tight thematic unity. The anthology-within-a-novel structure is not simply a framing device. The stories illuminate the novel and the novel reinforces the stories in an ascending spiral. Unfortunately the primary theme is not especially insightful. Palahniuk is saying that there is no need for supernatural monsters since human beings are themselves capable of the most monstrous acts. While there is some truth in this, he hammers away at it with such a relentless lack of nuance that the narrative becomes grim and tedious. It also makes his characters largely undifferentiated since they are uniformly selfish, cruel, myopic and perverse.
Yes, we get it. People are bad. Really, really bad. With so much repetition, "Haunted" at times becomes merely a tour of human depravity. And this is a tour that is conducted with a great degree of relish. He lingers so long over such truly hideous scenes that you wonder if he is making a point or just enjoys nauseating the reader.
There is a lot going on in "Haunted" and it is definitely the type of book that would otherwise be worth reading several times. But I could never bring myself to read it again; it is too humorless, too glibly cynical, and far too sickening.
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