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Haunted: A Novel


Haunted: A Novel Cover

ISBN13: 9780385509480
ISBN10: 0385509480
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Guinea Pigs

This was supposed to be a writers' retreat. It was supposed to be safe.

An isolated writers' colony, where we could work,

run by an old, old, dying man named Whittier,

until it wasn't.

And we were supposed to write poetry. Pretty poetry.

This crowd of us, his gifted students,

locked away from the ordinary world for three months.

And we called each other the "Matchmaker." And the "Missing Link."

Or "Mother Nature." Silly labels. Free-association names.

The same way--when you were little--you invented names for the plants and

animals in your world. You called peonies--sticky with nectar and crawling with

ants--the "ant flower." You called collies: Lassie Dogs.

But even now, the same way you still call someone "that man with one leg."

Or, "you know, the black girl . . ."

We called each other:

The "Earl of Slander."

Or "Sister Vigilante."

The names we earned, based on our stories. The names we gave each other,

based on our life instead of our family:

"Lady Baglady."

"Agent Tattletale."

Names based on our sins instead of our jobs:

"Saint Gut-Free."

And the "Duke of Vandals."

Based on our faults and crimes. The opposite of superhero names.

Silly names for real people. As if you cut open a rag doll and found inside:

Real intestines, real lungs, a beating heart, blood. A lot of hot, sticky blood.

And we were supposed to write short stories. Funny short stories.

Too many of us, locked away from the world for one whole

spring, summer, winter, autumn--one whole season of that year.

It doesn't matter who we were as people, not to old Mr. Whittier.

But he didn't say this at first.

To Mr. Whittier, we were lab animals. An experiment.

But we didn't know.

No, this was only a writers' retreat until it was too late for us to be anything,

except his victims.


When the bus pulls to the corner where Comrade Snarky had agreed to wait, she stands there in an army-surplus flak jacket--dark olive-green--and baggy camouflage pants, the cuffs rolled up to show infantry boots. A suitcase on either side of her. With a black beret pulled down tight on her head, she could be anyone.

"The rule was . . . ," Saint Gut-Free says into the microphone that hangs above his steering wheel.

And Comrade Snarky says, "Fine." She leans down to unbuckle a luggage tag off one suitcase. Comrade Snarky tucks the luggage tag in her olive-green pocket, then lifts the second suitcase and steps up into the bus. With one suitcase still on the curb, abandoned, orphaned, alone, Comrade Snarky sits down and says, "Okay."

She says, "Drive."

We were all leaving notes, that morning. Before dawn. Sneaking out on tiptoe with our suitcase down dark stairs, then along dark streets with only garbage trucks for company. We never did see the sun come up.

Sitting next to Comrade Snarky, the Earl of Slander was writing something in a pocket notepad, his eyes flicking between her and his pen.

And, leaning over sideways to look, Comrade Snarky says, "My eyes are green, not brown, and my hair is naturally this color auburn." She watches as he writes green, then says, "And I have a little red rose tattooed on my butt cheek." Her eyes settle on the silver tape recorder peeking out of his shirt pocket, the little-mesh microphone of it, and she says, "Don't write dyed hair. Women either lift or tint the color of their hair."

Near them sits Mr. Whittier, where his spotted, trembling hands can grip the folded chrome frame of his wheelchair. Beside him sits Mrs. Clark, her breasts so big they almost rest in her lap.

Eyeing them, Comrade Snarky leans into the gray flannel sleeve of the Earl of Slander. She says, "Purely ornamental, I assume. And of no nutritive value . . ."

That was the day we missed our last sunrise.

At the next dark street corner, where Sister Vigilante stands waiting, she holds up her thick black wristwatch, saying, "We agreed on four-thirty-five." She taps the watch face with her other hand, saying, "It is now four-thirty-nine . . ."

Sister Vigilante, she brought a fake-leather case with a strap handle, a flap that closed with a snap to protect the Bible inside. A purse handmade to lug around the Word of God.

All over the city, we waited for the bus. At street corners or bus-stop benches, until Saint Gut-Free drove up. Mr. Whittier sitting near the front with Mrs. Clark. The Earl of Slander. Comrade Snarky and Sister Vigilante.

Saint Gut-Free pulls the lever to fold open the door, and standing on the curb is little Miss Sneezy. The sleeves of her sweater lumpy with dirty tissues stuffed inside. She lifts her suitcase and it rattles loud as popcorn in a microwave oven. With every step up the stairs into the bus, the suitcase rattles loud as far-off machine-gun fire, and Miss Sneezy looks at us and says, "My pills." She gives the suitcase a loud shake and says, "A whole three months' supply . . ."

That's why the rule about only so much luggage. So we would all fit.

The only rule was one bag per person, but Mr. Whittier didn't say how big or what kind.

When Lady Baglady climbed on board, she wore a diamond ring the size of a popcorn kernel, her hand holding a leash, the leash dragging a leather suitcase on little wheels.

Waving her fingers to make her ring sparkle, Lady Baglady says, "It's my late husband, cremated and made into a three-carat diamond . . ."

At that, Comrade Snarky leans over the notepad where the Earl of Slander is writing, and she says, "Facelift is one word."

A few blocks later, after a couple traffic lights and around some corners waits Chef Assassin, carrying a molded aluminum suitcase with, inside, all his white elastic underpants and T-shirts and socks folded down to squares tight as origami. Plus a matched set of chef's knives. Under that, his aluminum suitcase is solid-packed with banded stacks of money, all of it hundred-dollar bills. All of it so heavy he used both hands to lift it into the bus.

Down another street, under a bridge and around the far side of a park, the bus pulled to the curb where no one seemed to wait. There the man we called the "Missing Link" stepped out of the bushes near the curb. Balled in his arms, he carried a black garbage bag, torn and leaking plaid flannel shirts.

Looking at the Missing Link, but talking sideways to the Earl of Slander, Comrade Snarky said, "His beard looks like something Hemingway might've shot . . ."

The dreaming world, they'd think we were crazy. Those people still in bed, they'd be asleep another hour, then washing their faces, under their arms, and between their legs, before going to the same work they did every day. Living that same life, every day.

Those people would cry to find us gone, but they would cry, too, if we were boarding a ship to start a new life across some ocean. Emigrating. Pioneers.

This morning, we were astronauts. Explorers. Awake while they slept.

These people would cry, but then they would go back to waiting tables, painting houses, programming computers.

At our next stop, Saint Gut-Free swung open the doors, and a cat ran up the steps and down the aisle between the seats of the bus. Behind the cat came Director Denial, saying, "His name is Cora." The cat's name was Cora Reynolds. "I didn't name him," said Director Denial, the tweed blazer and skirt she wore frosted with cat hair. One lapel swollen out from her chest.

"A shoulder holster," says Comrade Snarky, leaning close to tell the tape recorder in the Earl of Slander's shirt pocket.

All of this--whispering in the dark, leaving notes, keeping secret--it was our adventure.

If you were planning to be stranded on a desert island for three months, what would you bring along?

Let's say all your food and water would be provided, or so you think.

Let's say you can only bring along one suitcase because there will be a lot of you, and the bus taking you all to the desert island is only so big.

What would you pack in your suitcase?

Saint Gut-Free brought boxes of pork-rind snacks and dried cheese puffs, his fingers and chin orange with the salt dust. One bony hand gripping the steering wheel, he tilted each box to pour the snacks into his thin face.

Sister Vigilante brought a shopping bag of clothes with a satchel bag set in the top.

Leaning over her own huge breasts, holding them like a child in her arms, Mrs. Clark asked, did Sister Vigilante bring along a human head?

And Sister Vigilante opened the satchel far enough to show the three holes of a black bowling ball, saying, "My hobby . . ."

Comrade Snarky looks from the Earl of Slander scribbling into his notepad, then looks at Sister Vigilante's braided-tight black hair, not one strand pulling loose from its pins.

"That," Comrade Snarky says, "is tinted hair."

At our next stop, Agent Tattletale stood with a video camera held to one eye, filming the bus as it pulled to the curb. He brought a stack of business cards he passed out to prove he was a private detective. With his video camera held as a mask covering half his face, he filmed us, walking down the aisle to an empty seat at the back, blinding everyone with his spotlight.

A city block later, the Matchmaker climbed on board, tracking horse shit on his cowboy boots. A straw cowboy hat in his hands and a duffel bag hung over one shoulder, he sat and peeled back his window and spit brown tobacco juice down the brushed-steel side of the bus.

This is what we brought along for three months outside of the world. Agent Tattletale, his video camera. Sister Vigilante, her bowling ball. Lady Baglady, her diamond ring. This is what we'd need to write our stories. Miss Sneezy, her pills and tissues. Saint Gut-Free, his snack food. The Earl of Slander, his notebook and tape recorder.

Chef Assassin, his knives.

In the dim light of the bus, we all spied on Mr. Whittier, the workshop organizer. Our teacher. You could see the spotted shiny dome of his scalp under the few gray hairs combed across. The button-down collar of his shirt stood up, a starched white fence around his thin, spotted neck.

"The people you're sneaking away from," Mr. Whittier would say, "they don't want you enlightened. They want to know what to expect."

Mr. Whittier would tell you, "You cannot be the person they know and the great, glorious person you want to become. Not at the same time."

The people who really, actually loved us, Mr. Whittier said they'd beg us to go. To fulfill our dream. Practice our craft. And they would love us when we all came back.

In three months.

The little bit of life we'd each gamble.

We'd risk.

This much time, we'd bet on our own ability to create some masterpiece. A short story or poem or screenplay or memoir that would make sense of our life. A masterpiece that would buy our way out of slavery to a husband or a parent or a corporation. That would earn our freedom.

All of us, driving along the empty streets in the dark. Miss Sneezy fishes a damp tissue out of her sweater sleeve and blows her nose. She sniffs and says, "Sneaking out this way, I was so afraid of getting caught." Tucking the tissue back inside her cuff, she says, "I feel just like . . . Anne Frank."

Comrade Snarky digs the luggage tag out of her jacket pocket, the remains of her abandoned suitcase. Her abandoned life. And, turning the tag over and over in her hand, still looking at it, Comrade Snarky says, "The way I see it . . ." She says, "Anne Frank had life pretty good."

And Saint Gut-Free, his mouth full of corn chips, watching us all in the rearview mirror, chewing salt and fat, he says, "How's that?"

Director Denial pets her cat. Mrs. Clark pets her breasts. Mr. Whittier, his chrome wheelchair.

Under a streetlight, on a corner up ahead, the dark outline of another would-be writer waits.

"At least Anne Frank," Comrade Snarky said, "never had to tour with her book . . ."

And Saint Gut-Free hits the air brakes and cranks the steering wheel to pull over.


A Poem About Saint Gut-Free

"Here's the job I left to come here," the Saint says. "And the life I gave up."

He used to drive a tour bus.

Saint Gut-Free onstage, his arms folded across his chest--

so skinny

his hands can touch in the middle of his back

There stands Saint Gut-Free, with a single coat of skin

painted on his skeleton.

His collarbones loop out from his chest, big as grab


His ribs show through his white T-shirt, and his belt--

instead of his butt--keeps up his blue jeans.

Onstage, instead of a spotlight, a movie fragment:

the colors of houses and sidewalks, street signs and

parked cars,

wipe sideways across his face. A mask of heavy traffic.

Vans and trucks.

He says, "That job, driving tour bus . . ."

It was all Japanese, Germans, Koreans, all with English as

a second language, with phrase

books clutched in one hand, nodding and smiling at

whatever he told the

microphone as he steered the bus around corners, down

streets, past the houses of

movie stars or extra-bloody murders, apartments where

rock stars had overdosed.

Every day the same tour, the same mantra of murder,

movie stars, accidents. Places

where peace treaties got signed. Where presidents had


Until that day Saint Gut-Free stops in front of a picket-fence

ranch house, just a detour

to see if his parents' four-door Buick is there, if this is

still where they live,

where pacing the front yard is a man, pushing a lawn


There, into his microphone, the Saint tells his air-

conditioned cargo:

"You're looking at Saint Mel."

And, his father squinting at the wall of tinted bus


"The Patron Saint of Shame and Rage," says Gut-Free.

After that, every day, the tour includes "The Shrine of Saint

Mel and Saint Betty."

Saint Betty being the Patron Saint of Public Humiliation.

Parked in front of his sister's condo highrise, Saint Gut-Free

points to

some high-up floor. Up there, the shrine of Saint Wendy.

"The Patron Saint of Therapeutic Abortion."

Parked in front of his own apartment,

he tells the bus, "There's the shrine of Saint Gut-Free,"

the Saint himself, his pigeon shoulders, rubber-band lips,

and baggy shirt,

reflected even smaller in the rearview mirror.

"The Patron Saint of Masturbation."

While each seat in his bus, nodding heads, craning their

necks, they look to see

something divine.Copyright © 2005 by Chuck Palahniuk

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

Lucy Black, July 10, 2009 (view all comments by Lucy Black)
First of all, Chuck Palahniuk isn’t for everyone. People who’re squeamish in regards to sex or violence need not apply. That said, often it is the very gritty, graphic nature of his writing that brings his stories so vividly to life. He is an author who writes about the uglier things in this world, and it is impossible to make notions like addition or abuse come to life using innocuous, flowery prose.

Haunted starts out with a great premise: a secluded retreat where a group of writers are to remain until they’ve completed their masterpiece. The catch?-- the people in charge literally won’t let anyone leave until they’ve written something, and after awhile human nature starts to rear its ugly head. The novel’s structure is unique in that the main plot (that of the writers and their collective fates) is interspersed between the stories written by the individual characters, as well as a poem proceeding each story, which gives tells a little personal history. Unfortunately, where Palahniuk’s explicit style succeeds in novels like Choke or Fight Club, it descends into gratuitousness in Haunted. Perhaps due to the bizarre format, there is only minimal character development, and the writers’ tales do little to create reader-sympathy for them. Although a couple of the shorts really engraved themselves in my mind, overall I found myself bored and annoyed with the people in this book, and even after several attempts I never managed to finish reading it. I would not recommend Haunted unless you’re merely reading for the shock effect that’s made the novel so infamous.
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bbyhershey, January 5, 2008 (view all comments by bbyhershey)
This novel is filled with some of the most entertaining stories i have ever read. the author has truly developed each character to the full extent. I would recomend this book to anyone.
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Carla, December 7, 2006 (view all comments by Carla)
To quote the referenced Esquire review:
"...Haunted is crap of a high order, flung fresh against the wall and obsessively smeared by a deeply troubled fellow. As his cardboard characters' internment gets more grim — no heat, no food, no exit — Chuckles performs his standard striptease: grotesque sex, murder, self-mutilation, and cannibalism..."
As a book review--as an art review of any kind--this one is deeply flawed for two reasons:
1. It gleefully trashes the novel because, it seems, the reviewer dislikes the author. Saying in any review that an author is "deeply troubled" and calling his cadre of work "his standard striptease" is unprofessional--hiding trees of pettiness in a forest of x number of words, written for an editor.
2. The second part of this quote shows that this reviewer, despite his insinuations to the contrary, is not familiar with Palahniuk's work. For example, his astounding novels Lullaby and DIary do not contain "grotesque sex...self-mutilation, and cannibalism"; the murders that do occur in Lullaby are not committed, to write in the vernacular of Haunted's characters, on-screen. Neither are they graphic in the least.
Palahniuk has a mastery of the English language, and of the interiors of the human heart. He knows it's dark in there, and wants to show you. Perhaps this referenced Esquire reviewer rejected what he saw reflected.
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Product Details

Palahniuk, Chuck
Random House
Short Stories (single author)
Horror - General
Edition Number:
Publication Date:
May 3, 2005
8.56x5.78x1.19 in. 1.27 lbs.

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Haunted: A Novel Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.95 In Stock
Product details 416 pages Doubleday Books - English 9780385509480 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

You've gotta love the reviews piling up for Haunted: "provokes a lot more nausea and eye rolls than deep thoughts" (Booklist); "all but dares the reader to be seasick" (New York Times); "a catalog of atrocities" (Library Journal); and my personal favorite, "Stomach-churning horror that takes a bit too much joy in its diabolic machinations" (Kirkus), which I think should be the front-cover blurb of the paperback version. One easily imagines Palahniuk cackling with delight

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "What elevates Palahniuk's best novels (e.g., Fight Club) above their shocking premises is his ability to find humanity in deeply grotesque characters. But such generosity of spirit is not evident in his latest, which charts the trials of a group of aspiring writers brought together for a three-month writer's retreat in an abandoned theater. The novel intersperses the writers' poems and short stories with tales of the indignities they heap upon themselves after deciding to turn their lives into a 'true-life horror story with a happy ending.' They lock themselves in the theater, reasoning that once they're found, they'll all become rich and famous. They raise the stakes of their story by first depriving themselves of phones, and then of food and electricity; eventually they cut off their own fingers, toes and unmentionables before they start dying off and eating each other. Palahniuk tells his story with such blithe disregard for these characters that it's hard not to wish he had dispensed with the novel altogether and published, instead, the 23 short stories that pop up throughout the book. For instance, 'Obsolete,' about a young girl about to commit state-mandated suicide, and 'Slumming,' about rich couples who pretend to be homeless, play so deftly with expectations and have an emotional core so surprising that they consistently, powerfully transcend their macabre premises to showcase the heart beating beneath the horrors. Agent, Edward Hibbert at Donadio & Olson. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Nothing mere about it: Haunted is crap of a high order, flung fresh against the wall and obsessively smeared by a deeply troubled fellow. As his cardboard characters' internment gets more grim — no heat, no food, no exit — Chuckles performs his standard striptease: grotesque sex, murder, self-mutilation, and cannibalism." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review" by , "[W]hile a number of the stories here are ingenious, in a devilish sort of way, the constant barrage of wicked sadism soon palls. Stomach-churning horror that takes a bit too much joy in its diabolic machinations."
"Review" by , "None of Chuck Palahniuk's books are for the faint of heart. But Haunted may be his most outrageous yet....Palahniuk's stories in Haunted all explore...the seemingly unappeasable human hunger for narrative and what it teaches us about the human heart."
"Review" by , "[An] over-the-top gore fest....[S]ometimes very clever and pitch-black funny. But Haunted provokes a lot more nausea and eye rolls than deep thoughts....[T]his novel will please Palahniuk's hardcore fans and few others."
"Review" by , "Mr. Palahniuk all but dares the reader to be seasick....Like Neil LaBute and Todd Solondz, he can turn the revenge of the nerds into a bold feat of liberation. Or he can throw in one dead dog too many, which is what happens here."
"Review" by , "The short stories would work if taken singly and at intervals, but strung together they become a catalog of atrocities. Palahniuk is a clever and inventive writer, but this book is recommended only for...readers with strong stomachs and morbid dispositions."
"Review" by , "To produce a tract on the cultural depravity that's devouring culture, Palahniuk would have been better off writing a snappy essay; as for this work of fiction, even the most ardent of his fans may have trouble mucking through this world of ingrates."
"Review" by , "Palahniuk's latest is not the best of his work, but it is not the worst, either. Devoted fans of his creepy hyper-reality fiction will surely find something in it to recommend this work..."
"Review" by , "Frequently entertaining [and] often appalling....There are paragraphs here — entire pages, in fact — that are as disgusting as anything I've ever read. Truly vivid and harrowing (and often quite funny)."
"Review" by , "[A]ll the characters share the distinctively choppy writing style of Chuck Palahniuk, as well as his grim world view and fetishistic attraction to suffering....I've recommended this book to a few people, but they are all a little bent."
"Review" by , "All of the stories are written in pretty much the same style and tone, and while the writing occasionally has a certain bug-zapping crispness to it, it's not nearly as amusing as the author thinks....Haunted has plenty of guts, but little glory."
"Synopsis" by , Made up of 23 of the most horrifying, hilarious, mind-blowing, stomach-churning tales readers will ever encounter, Haunted is Palahniuk at his finest — which means his most extreme and his most provocative.
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