Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Title:  Haunted

Author:  Chuck Palahniuk

Paperback:  412 pages

Date Published:  2006

Publisher:  Vintage

ISBN:  9780099497172

Looking back, it was Mr. Whittier’s stand that we’re always right.

“It’s not a matter of right and wrong,” Mr. Whittier would say.

Really, there is no wrong.  Not in our own minds.  Our own Reality.

…In your own mind, you are always right.  Every action you take – what you do or say or how you choose to appear – is automatically right the moment you act.

…We’re all condemned to be right.  About everything we can consider.

In this shifting, liquid world where everyone is right and any idea is right the moment you act on it, Mr. Whitier would say, the only sure thing is what you promise.

“Three months, you promised,” Mr. Whittier says through the steam of his coffe.

It’s then something happens, but not much.

In that next look, you feel your asshole get tight.  Your fingers fly to cover your mouth.

Miss America is holding a knife in one hand.  With her other hand, she grips the knot of Mr. Whittier’s necktie, pulling his face up toward her own.  Mr. Whittier’s coffee, dropped, spilled steaming-hot on the floor.  His hands hang, shaking, swirling the dusty air at ech side.

Saint Gut-Free’s silver bag of instant crepe Suzette drops, spilled out on the cornflower-blue carpet, the sticky red cherries and reconstituted whipped cream.

And the cat runs over for a taste.

Her eyes almost touching Mr. Whittier’s, Miss America says, “So I’m right if I kill you?”

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk, pages 60-61

Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk is the stories and poems within a bigger story that is the shadow of the truth.  It is the camera behind the camera behind the camera, as is often said in the book.  It’s the story of a collection of strangers who have all answered an ad about a writer’s retreat, but find it’s a lot more than they bargained for.  Mr. Whittier, the operator of the “retreat” tells them that they’ve promised to write and, for the  next three months, he intends to hold them to that promise.  However, there is an unfortunate hiccup in the plan when Whittier dies from a busted gut after eating the equivalent of 10 freeze-dried turkey dinners.  Now the strangers are on their own, locked in an abandoned hotel/theater, each with their own guilt and story to haunt them.

From a psychological/sociological point of view, this book is fascinating.  It’s  a bit like Lord of the Fliesin that it is the witness of the de-evolution of society.  How depraved can people get?  How little humanity will be left at the end of the three month period?  When food runs out (because they’ve all sabotaged the supplies) what will they eat?  That they are all there as writers and artists, what will they do with this time they are given?

It is a dark look into the human soul.  The Missing Link states that it is how we treat the animals around us that shows our humanity… the cat disappears shortly after he says this.  Director Denial makes a statement again and again that people turn each other into objects, then turn objects into people.  Points are made that humans have  a low threshhold of tolerance to boredom, that we seek out a villain to blame all our troubles on, and that we thrive on chaos, drama and disaster.  There’s no joy like the joy found in another’s suffering.  That all this drama and difficulty is to prepare us for our final act, our own death.

While these are the concepts that drew me to this book, I found the book itself a bit on the boring side.  I kept falling asleep… though, that may have been because I couldn’t nibble while reading due to the nauseatingly disgusting content.  Haunted has more canabalism in it that the Donner Party was ever accused of.  The graphic descriptions of the toilets backing up, the cooking of a baby, and decomposition were enough to make me gag. 

This is only my second Palahniuk book, Rant being my first, and I’m aware he can be a bit disgusting and warped.  One review I read said that Hauntedwas for the true Palahniuk fans.  I’ve got a few more of his books on Mt. TBR, but I think I’m going to wait for a while before reading another by him… let my stomach settle.  It’s definitely NOT for the faint of heart.

Even though it was gut-churningly gross, the intellectual appeal was enough to keep me reading on.  I give Hauntedby Chuck Palahniuk 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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One of my favorite parts of my Border’s newsletters is the shortlist.  When Palahniuk’s book Snuff came out, the following video was his shortlist offering.  I think it was this vid that made me want to read more Palahniuk (as well as pick up Clown Girl)

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The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Title: The World Without Us
Author: Alan Weisman
Paperback: 369 pages
Publisher: Picador (division of St. Martin’s Press)
Publish Date: August 2008
ISBN: 9780312427900

… picture a world from which we all suddenly vanished. Tomorrow.

Unlikely perhaps, but for the sake of argument, not impossible. Say a Homo sapiens-specific virus – natural or diabolically nano-engineered – picks us off but leaves everything else intact. Or some misanthropic evil wizard somehow targets that unique 3.9 percent of DNA that makes us human beings and not chimpanzees, or perfects a way to sterilize our sperm. Or say that Jesus… or space aliens rapture us away, either to our heavenly glory or to a zoo somewhere across the galaxy.

Look around you, at today’s world. Your house, your city. The surrounding land, the pavement underneath, and the soil hidden below that. Leave it all in place, but extract the human beings. Wipe us out, and see what’s left. How would the rest of nature respond if it were suddenly relieved of the relentless pressures we heap on it and our fellow organisms? How soon would, or could, the climate return to where it was before we fired up all our engines?

How long would it take to recover lost ground and restore Eden to the way it must have gleamed and smelled the day before Adam, or Homo habilis, appeared? Could nature ever obliterate all our traces? How would it undo our monumental cities and public works, and reduce our myriad plastics and toxic synthetics back to benign, basic elements? Or are some so unnatural that they’re indestructible?

…Since we’re imagining, why not also dream of a way for nature to prosper that doesn’t depend on our demise? We are, after all, mammals ourselves. Every life-form adds to this vast pageant. With our passing, might some lost contribution of ours leave the planet a bit more impoverished?Is it possible that, instead of heaving a huge biological sigh of relief, the world without us would miss us?

 

The World Without Usby Alan Weisman, pages 5-6

 

This is the premise for The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.  Weisman puts the question “What if ?” to the reader, then thoroughly, intelligently and scientifically systematically answers the question:  How long and by what process would it take for nature to reclaim the world if humans were to suddenly disappear?

In many ways, animals and plants would thrive and take off.  Several places in the world have been negatively impacted greatly because of what man has done, Chernobyl, Johnson Island, and a large number of coral reefs to name a few.  However, to say that the world would go back to pre-human conditions without us is naive and a romantic fantasy.

Without human mechanics and equipment operators, our 141 nuclear reactors would meltdown, spreading radioactive waste on clouds that would spread globally, as well as leech into the soil and ground water, eventually finding their way to lakes, rivers and oceans.  Also in need of these human beings care and service are the vast number of petroleum refineries, which would also suffer catastrophic failure in our absence and spread heavy metal and carcinogenic particle laden smoke along trade winds, reaching ground in other parts of the world in the rainfall.  No, the world without us would NOT be a better, cleaner Edenic place.

It is unmistakeable that mankind has forever irrevocably altered the Earth.  We have introduced gender-bending chemicals, which show no signs of EVER degrading,  into water sources.  The plastics that we produce for our disposable convenience only break down into smaller and smaller particles that are then eaten by birds and fish, many of which later suffer agonizing deaths from constipation as the pieces do not digest.  And in case there was a slight chance nothing of us would last, we’ll throw in the uranium and plutonium, both “depleted” and “weapons grade,” some of which have a half-life longer than the estimated time of the demise of our solar system!

The World Without Usby Alan Weisman is a sobering book.  I had to take a step or two back and look at what I, myself, do that contributes to the destruction of our ecosystem.  When Weisman talks about how some of those tiny pieces of plastic ending up in the oceans come from some of the body washes and other beauty care products, I ran to my shower to check the label of my shower gel (I was happy to find no plastic beads, only natural exfolients).   Second, I’ve always looked at “recycling” as some hippy-dippy commune-escaped concept and haven’t ever really done it (I looked at that toter as just an extra trash can).  After reading what the effects of my plastic water bottle and plastic bag usages does to the world, I know I have to change at least MY little contribution.

One poignant thought from this book is:  The Earth is like a super-organism, the soil, atmosphere and oceans its circulatory system regulated by its resident flora and fauna.  As such, this living planet may be suffering a high fever with humans the virus.  A sobering thought.

As a scientifically and intelligible answer to a simple question with an extremely complex answer, I give The World Without Us by Alan Weisman 5 out of 5 stars.  I recommend everyone with a stake in the Earth’s future to read it.

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TSS- Alien Invaders and Holy Matrimony!

The Sunday Salon.com

Happy Sunday, everyone! Hope your weekend has gone well 🙂

This past week I was dropped on a strange and unsettled planet, survived underground scavengers that feed by night, flying predators that attack by day, and mechanicals that registered me as a warm body, shot me with a tranq dart, then dumped me in a barn with livestock destined for slaughter. I managed to survive all of this because I was lucky enough to be deposited on the planet, which we named Botany, with some very competent and ingenious people… and one guy who was of the race of our captors, but was an honorable and stand-up guy without whom many of us would have died!

Of course, I didn’t really go through all of this 😉 . Rather, it was the plot of Freedom’s Landingby Anne McCaffrey (my review). A fascinating and exciting book of survival and community, of forgetting differences to become a working society.

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This week, I will be reading Josh Henkin’s Matrimony, a New York Times Most Notable Book. I will having a giveaway for a signed copy of Matrimony, opened to anyone worldwide. The drawing for it will be February 25th, which is the first day of Lent (I thought the sacrament of marriage and the sacrament of penance went well together 😉 ). I will post more details in the coming days, so check back later!

This Sunday Salon is short and sweet, as it is one in the morning here and my bed is calling 😀 Happy Reading!

Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr

Title: Nim’s Island
 Author: Wendy Orr
Illustrator: Kerry Millard
Paperback: 125 pages
Publisher: Yearling
Publish Date: 1999
ISBN: 9780375811234

In a palm tree, on an island, in the middle of the wide blue sea, was a girl.

Nim’s hair was wild, her eyes were bright, and around her neck she wore three cords. One was for a spyglass, one for a whorly, whistling shell, and one for a fat red pocketknife in a sheath.

With a spyglass at her eye, she watched her father’s boat. It sailed out through the reef to the deeper dark ocean, and Jack turned to wave and Nim waved back, though she knew he couldn’t see.

Then the white sails caught the wind and blew him out of sight, and Nim was alone…

-page 5, Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr

Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr is a fun little tale of a girl named Nim and how she copes with being alone to care for herself when a sudden storm catches her marine biologist father at sea, damaging his boat and preventing his return. Equipped with the modern technology while living in an island hut, Nim answers her father’s email from Alex Rover, the reclusive and mysterious, world-famous adventurer and author.

After receiving Rover’s questions regarding coconuts floatablity and usefulness in building a raft (the planned escape for Rover’s hero in the next book), Nim helps answer Rover’s inquiry… glad of the diversion while her father’s away… and in the process developing a friendship with Rover.

However, as the days go by without the return of her father and an infected injury to her knee, Nim begins to rely more and more on her new friendship with her hero and writer, as loneliness and fear begin to set in. Compounding her emotional turmoil is the close call with the Troppo Tourists boat; the people inadvertently responsible for the death of Nim’s mother.

During her experience alone on the island, Nim takes comfort in the knowledge that the rugged, manly hero/adventurer/writer Alex Rover is only a click away for advice. So when she realizes Alex is an Alexandra, she is angry and feels tricked. Likewise, when Alex realizes Nim’s all alone on the island, and Selkie and Fred aren’t her brother and sister, but rather her pets, she is horrified and decides to fly to be with Nim, even though she is terrified of flying and open water.

Throughout the story, there is the wonder and worry about the dad’s return, Nim’s well-being, the island’s continued secret existence, and loneliness of all three main characters: Jack’s loss of Nim’s mother, Nim’s longing for a hands-on dad, and Alex’s reclusiveness.

I enjoyed this book, and loved the movie version by the same name. I actually saw the movie first, then later found out it was a book as well. The two are rather different, however, which often makes it possible to like both. Whereas the book deals with the Troppo Tourists’ discovery of the island in passing and Nim’s defense of it in a short segment, the movie’s main crisis isthe invasion of the tourists and Nim’s mounting an aggressive push of the unwanted vacationers.

In truth, I liked the movie better than the book, because there’s a lot more detail to the characters’ lives. Alex Rover is more agoraphobic… pretty much phobic of everything, really, so the struggle to “be the hero of her own life” is more intense. The movie’s Nim has more depth and is more like a real girl than in the book, with the attitude of a desire for independence that most preteens have. Also, the movie’s dad seems more like a caring and concerned parent desiring the safety of his daughter than the book’s more-or-less-absentee father.

I’d recommend Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr, particularly for girls ages 8-12. Maggie is rather into it, and is looking forward to finishing it. I’d give Nim’s Island three out of five stars.

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Cell by Stephen King

Cell cover art

Title: Cell
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Pocket Books (division of Simon & Schuster)
Publication Date: December 2006
ISBN: 1416524517

The phone-crazies own the days; when the stars come out, that’s us.  We’re like vampires.  We;ve been banished to the night.  Up close we know each other because we can still talk; at a little distance we can be pretty sure of each other by the packs we wear and the guns more and more of us carry; but at a distance, the one sure sign is the waving flashlight beam.  Three days ago we not only ruled the earth, we had survivor’s guil about all the other species we’d wiped out on our climb to the nirvana of round-the-clock cable news and microwave popcorn.  Now we’re the Flashlight People.

          -Page 161 of Cell by Stephen King 

The apocalypse doesn’t begin with the deafening boom of war, but with the quiet ring of a cell phone.

 According to GEARlog, as of Nov. 2007 82% of United States citizens have cell phones, a number of  1/4 billion.  In fact, the United States is second only to China in number their number.  With that number in mind, imagine what would happen if some tech-terrorist broadcasted a virus, relaying it through the cell towers,  and anyone using a cell phone had the hard drive of their brains stripped to the core programming of violent, animalistic survival.  Those on their cells when The Pulse, as it’s called in the book, is activated and they become raging, psychotic, murdeous beasts ripping the throats out of those around them with their teeth and tearing the limbs off people with their bare hands.  If you were witnessing this, your first instict would be to grab your cell phone and call someone, getting an earful of the mind-scrambling Pulse and going mad because of it.

This is what happens to Clayton Riddell on the afternoon of his life, after he’s sold his graphic novel series and has achieved sudden weath.  As he sits on a park bench reflecting on his turn of luck and enjoying a beautiful October afternoon in Boston, he observes a man in a business suit biting a dog’s ear and ripping it off the side of the screaming animal’s head.

Clay is able to survive the initial event and hook up with a few other “normies” and head north to Maine, where Clay’s estranged wife and his 11-year-old son John live.  Reuniting with John is the only thing on Clay’s mind.  Two things plague Riddell, though: One, the ever-present fear John had been on his own cell phone when it happened, and Two,  the “phoners” are evolving, gaining new and unusual powers.

When Clayton’s band of survivors kill a flock of the phoners, they find themselves public enemy number one and are driven to the place of their intended doom by The Raggedy Man, spokesman for the new world.  Can they survive?  Will Clayton find his son?  if he does, What will he find left of the boy?

Stephen King’s Cell is remeniscent of several dystopic/apocalyptic books and stories, including King’s Mist and Stand.  In Cell we find Mrs. Carmody reincarnated in “Bible Thumping Bertha” as they make the exodus out of Boston, and we see a version of Randall Flagg in The Raggedy Man.  I was also reminded of McCarthy’s The Roadby the interactions and relationships of the survivors.  The visciousness of the phoners (they are very much like zombies) made me think of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.  Though not a dystopic, The way the book ends reminds me of The Kite Runner by Khaled Housseini.  Even with the similarities, and perhaps because of them, Cell is is a gripping page turner that you won’t be able to put down!