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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction

by Chuck Palahniuk

(Jonathan Cape, 10.00, paperback, 272 pages, 5 September 2002; ISBN: 0224063014.)

Chuck Palahniuk's first four novels -- from the notoriously cover scantransgressive Fight Club to the hilariously extreme Choke -- have all been bizarre. And yet, despite their unlikely characters and entertainingly preposterous plot twists, they have always stayed just this side of possible.

With his fifth novel, Lullaby, Palahniuk steps firmly and boldly into the realm of the impossible. Lullaby is a modern-day dark fantasy featuring haunted houses, witches, dangerous spells, pagan rituals, and the like.

Independently of each other, Helen Hoover Boyle, a corrupt real-estate agent who deals in haunted houses, and Carl Streator, a journalist assigned to investigate Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, discover that a child's poem is in reality an ancient culling spell, lethal to any to whom it is recited.

Joined by the twenty-something Wiccans Mona and Oyster, the forty-something Carl and Helen embark on a cross-country journey to destroy all copies of the book that contains the lethal verse. In the process, the quartet becomes a twisted version of the American nuclear family, where deep-rooted power imbalances create tense and complex conflicts.

Like all of Palahniuk's novels, Lullaby is a first-person narrative from the point of view of a dysfunctional antihero; in this case, Carl, who, despite his wish to rid the world of the deadly spell, casually becomes a supernatural serial killer.

The beginning of the novel is a bit clumsy; the prologue is unnecessary, and chapter 1 isn't as tight and focused as Palahniuk usually is right from page one. But from chapter 2 onwards, Lullaby is otherwise flawless: darkly sardonic and filled with wild invention, penetrating quips, subversive ideas, and relentless energy.

Originally published in The Montreal Gazette,
Saturday, 28 September 2002.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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