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Lullaby Cover




Chapter 2

They ask you just one question. Just before you graduate from journalism school, they tell you to imagine you're a reporter.

Imagine you work at a daily big-city newspaper, and one Christmas Eve, your editor sends you out to investigate a death.

The police and paramedics are there. The neighbors, wearing bathrobes and slippers, crowd the hallway of the slummy tenement. Inside the apartment, a young couple is sobbing beside their Christmas tree. Their baby has choked to death on an ornament.

You get what you need, the baby's name and age and all, and you get back to the newspaper around midnight and write the story on press deadline.

You submit it to your editor and he rejects it because you don't say the color of the ornament.

Was it red or green? You couldn't look, and you didn't think to ask.

With the pressroom screaming for the front page, your choices are: Call the parents and ask the color. Or refuse to call and lose your job. This was the fourth estate. Journalism. And where I went to school, just this one question is the entire final exam for the Ethics course. It's an either/or question. My answer was to call the paramedics.

Items like this have to be catalogued. The ornament had to be bagged and photographed in some file of evidence. No way would I call the parents after midnight on Christmas Eve.

The school gave my ethics a D.

Instead of ethics, I learned only to tell people what they want to hear. I learned to write everything down. And I learned editors can be real assholes.

Since then, I still wonder what that test was really about. I'm a reporter now, on a big-city daily, and I don't have to imagine anything.

My first real baby was on a Monday morning in September. There was no Christmas ornament. No neighbors crowded around the trailer house in the suburbs. One paramedic sat with the parents in the kitchenette and asked them the standard questions.

The second paramedic took me back to the nursery and showed me what they usually find in the crib.

The standard questions paramedics ask include: Who found the child dead? When was the child found? Was the child moved? When was the child last seen alive? Was the child breast- or bottle-fed? The questions seem random, but all doctors can do is gather statistics and hope someday a pattern will emerge.

The nursery was yellow with blue, flowered curtains at the windows and a white wicker chest of drawers next to the crib.

There was a white-painted rocking chair. Above the crib was a mobile of yellow plastic butterflies. On the wicker chest was book open to page 27. On the floor was a blue braided-rag rug.

On one wall was a framed needlepoint. It said: Thursday's Child Has Far to Go. The room smelled like baby powder.

And maybe I didn't learn ethics, but I learned to pay attention. No detail is too minor to note.

The open book was called Poems and Rhymes from Around the World, and it was checked out from the county library. My editor's plan was to do a five-part series on sudden infant death syndrome. Every year seven thousand babies die without any apparent cause. Two out of every thousand babies will just go to sleep and never wake up. My editor, Duncan, he kept calling it crib death.

The details about Duncan are he's pocked with acne scars and his scalp is brown along the hairline every two weeks when he dyes his gray roots. His computer password is password.

All we know about sudden infant death is there is no pattern. Most babies die alone between midnight and morning, but a baby will also die while sleeping beside its parents. It can die in a car seat or in a stroller. A baby can die in its mother's arms. There are so many people with infants, my editor said. It's the type of story that every parent and grandparent is too afraid to read and too afraid not to read. There's really no new information, but the idea was to profile five families that had lost a child. Show how people cope. How people move forward with their lives. Here and there, we could salt in the standard facts about crib death. We could show the deep inner well of strength and compassion each of these people discovers. That angle. Because it ties to no specific event, it's what you'd call soft news. We'd run it on the front of the Lifestyles section.

For art, we could show smiling pictures of healthy babies that were now dead.

We'd show how this could happen to anyone. That was his pitch. It's the kind of investigative piece you do for awards. It was late summer and the news was slow. This was the peak time of year for last-term pregnancies and newborns.

It was my editor's idea for me to tag along with paramedics.

The Christmas story, the sobbing couple, the ornament, by now I'd been working so long I'd forgotten all that junk.

That hypothetical ethics question, they have to ask that at the end of the journalism program because by then it's too late. You have big student loans to pay off. Years and years later, I think what they're really asking is: Is this something you want to do for a living?

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Average customer rating based on 4 comments:

rewjr, July 6, 2011 (view all comments by rewjr)
I discovered Chuck Palahniuk in an article on Wikipedia. I started with Lullaby and couldn't put it down. I finished in about a day and a half and started on Diary, the next book in a trilogy. Lullaby was funny, frightening, engrossing. I have recommended it to more than one friend as I will Diary.
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lupoman, December 31, 2008 (view all comments by lupoman)
This bizarre tale of a lullaby that is lethal when spoken is probably one of the best stories this author has written. It's darkly humorous with many twists and turns, and is also a quick read. Bravo! five stars
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(3 of 10 readers found this comment helpful)
Clark, July 26, 2007 (view all comments by Clark)
This is one of the best books I have ever read. Chuck Palahniuk is one of the most skilled writers in the field today. His style is unique, in a class of its own. If you have not read this book yet, now is the time.
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Product Details

Palahniuk, Chuck
Anchor Books
Horror - General
Horror fiction
General Fiction
fiction;horror;novel;satire;contemporary fiction;dark humor;magic;dark;contemporary;death;nihilism;american;humor;literature;sids;palahniuk;chuck palahniuk;fantasy;culling song;mystery;murder;thriller;sudden infant death syndrome;journalism;power;incantat
fiction;horror;novel;satire;contemporary fiction;dark humor;magic;dark;contemporary;death;nihilism;american;humor;literature;sids;palahniuk;chuck palahniuk;fantasy;culling song;mystery;murder;thriller;sudden infant death syndrome;journalism;power;incantat
Edition Number:
1st paperback ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
July 2003
Grade Level:
8.14x5.26x.59 in. .45 lbs.

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Lullaby Used Trade Paper
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Product details 272 pages Anchor (UK) - English 9780385722193 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Somewhere inside the book's frequently hilarious flippancy there is an authentic urgency....Like Kurt Vonnegut, Mr. Palahniuk juggles nihilism and idealism with fluid, funny ease....[W]ith this fourth novel, Mr. Palahniuk further refines his ability to create parables that are as substantial as they are off-the-wall."
"Review" by , "The latest comic outrage from Palahniuk concerns a lethal African poem, an unwitting serial killer, a haunted-house broker, and a frozen baby. In other words, the usual Palahniuk fare....Outrageous, darkly comic fun of the sort you'd expect from Palahniuk."
"Review" by , "[Lullaby shows Palahniuk is] capable of tenderness as well as outrage....It's a fun ride, but what separates this novel from Palahniuk's previous work is its emotional depth, its ability to explore the unbearable pain of losing a child just as richly as it laments our consume-or-die worldview."
"Review" by , "Lullaby is a very funny novel. Palahniuk, author of the cultish Fight Club, has a clever and precise way with repetitive prose riffs and shorthand wisecracks. He is a macho stylist."
"Review" by , "Lullaby can be tedious and even confusing, but it redeems itself. The novel ultimately intertwines and explains its twists while presenting a chilling theme with malevolent characters — characters you eventually find yourself understanding."
"Review" by , "Hilarious satire, both supernatural and scatological....But the chief significance of this novel is Palahniuk's decision to commit himself to a genre, and this horror tale of both magic and mundane modernity plants him firmly in a category where previously he existed as a genre of one."
"Review" by , "Though he tells it with verve, [the story] quickly begins to sound awfully one-note, if not downright repetitive....Palahniuk's comic touches, though, do work their occasional magic....Palanhiuk hasn't delivered a coherent or inventive enough vision to make believers of us. The details are marvelous to behold, but that big picture really is missing."
"Review" by , "[The] plot outline barely hints at the range of the author's thematic obsessions....Characteristic for Palahniuk, the novel's setup is more subversively engaging than the follow-through, though his writing remains so deliriously rich in ideas and entertaining in its stream-of-conscious riffing that conventions of character, plot and plausibility seem like comparatively empty anachronisms."
"Review" by , "It's great. It's better than great. It's edible, this story is juicy, delightful, funny, wicked, smart, silly....With Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk delivers what can only be described as a complete critical assessment, cut down, body slam of the banality of modern critical thought. With this novel, he tears everyone a new one, and smiles while doing it."
"Synopsis" by , From the author of the New York Times bestseller Choke and the cult classic Fight Club comes a cunningly plotted novel about the ultimate verbal weapon, one that reinvents the apocalyptic thriller for modern times.
"Synopsis" by , Ever heard of a culling song? It's a lullaby sung in Africa to give a painless death to the old or infirm. The lyrics of a culling song kill, whether spoken or even just thought. You can find one on page 27 of Poems and Rhymes from Around the World, an anthology that is sitting on the shelves of libraries across the country, waiting to be picked up by unsuspecting readers.

Reporter Carl Streator discovers the song's lethal nature while researching Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and before he knows it, he's reciting the poem to anyone who bothers him. As the body count rises, Streator glimpses the potential catastrophe if someone truly malicious finds out about the song. The only answer is to find and destroy every copy of the book in the country. Accompanied by a shady real-estate agent, her Wiccan assistant, and the assistants truly annoying ecoterrorist boyfriend, Streator begins a desperate cross-country quest to put the culling song to rest.

Written with a style and imagination that could only come from Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby is the latest outrage from one of our most exciting writers at work today.

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