If someone were to come up to you and say, “The first rule of Fight Club is …” you would most likely respond, “You don’t talk about Fight Club” without missing a beat. This ubiquitous quote is hardly ever attributed to the original novel by Chuck Palahniuk, but to the 1999 movie with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. In fact, Chuck Palahniuk is relatively unknown compared to his most prevalent work. “Fight Club,” although a delightfully disturbing work of literature, is hardly his best. Palahniuk’s “Haunted“ is my personal favorite.
“Haunted” is unique in that it is a collection of short stories, but each of the stories ties back into the original plot and is preceded by a poem about the writer. The collection is a modern retelling of the famous summer of 1816 on Lake Geneva. During this time, Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley and John Polidori all abandoned their day-to-day lives for a few months of debauchery. After reading from the popular horror anthology “Tales of the Dead,” Lord Byron challenged each of them to write their own horror story. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (which later inspired Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”) were a few of the products of this gathering. Palahniuk does a wonderful job giving a modern twist to this famous summer writer’s retreat.
“Haunted” is a collection of interrelated short stories centered upon a group of people isolated together in what they were led to believe was a writers’ retreat. The host of the retreat and owner of the abandoned theater where it’s held is named Mr. Whittier. Soon after the motley group of writers arrives at the theater, the windows and doors are all locked. Mr. Whittier will not let them leave until they have each composed a personal masterpiece; a magnum opus. As their desperation for escape grows, so does the grotesque nature of their stories. And as the stories become more and more hideous, so do the writers themselves. They soon realize that if they ever escape from Mr. Whittier’s madhouse, their exploits would undoubtedly make them rich and famous. To make their experience more “marketable,” they each do what they can to make the conditions in the house as deadly as possible. They decimate the food supply, break the furnace, and clog up the toilets all in the name of notoriety. What ensues is not for those of us with a weak stomach. The twisted plot coupled with each of the character’s stories makes for a shocking work of literature that could have only come from the mind of Chuck Palahniuk. You can find this work and others by Palahniuk in the basement of Reinert-Alumni Library.