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on September 18, 2002
Chuck Palahniuk has a knack for capturing the pressures of modern life, and the resulting angst and alienation of the people who inhabit it. To that extent, Lullaby is no different from Choke or Fight Club. This really isn't a twist on the horror story as some of the media reviews have made it out to be.
There's the emotionally scarred main protagonist with a dark past secret waiting to be dredged up who surrounds him or herself with a surrogate family. There's the rants against modernity and consumerism and their resulting compulsions. There's the quest on which the main characters embark that culminates in an anarchic free for all. There's the identity switches between characters. And, of course, there's Palahniuk's wisecracks, smart-[aleck] asides, and spare, almost hard-boiled writing style.
Palahniuk does all this so well, so uniquely, that his fans are not going to be disappointed with Lullaby.
What makes Lullaby different from what has come before, and what makes Lullaby his best novel, is that he seems to tackle his usual themes a bit more thoroughly and directly than he has before. And for the first time, Palahniuk introduces the notion of modern access to information as something to really worry about, rather than accept as something that will liberate society. The device he uses here is an ancient African culling spell. A magical spell that poses as a deadly information virus.
If there is anything that is unsatisfying it's the ending, which in typical Palahniuk fashion, resolves the fate in an anarchic free for all of outlandishness. It seems like Palahniuk plots his novels into dead ends, leaving him no way out to end his novels, and he has to resort to, well, what happens in Lullaby.
But that doesn't make Lullaby an unsatisfying novel. And, in the strange world that Palahniuk's characters inhabit, which is still identifiably the world we live in today, the way Palahniuk unravels it all seems to make the only sense in light of what's come before in the novel.
So far, Palahniuk can do no wrong.
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on February 6, 2003
"Lullaby" tells the story of Carl Streator, a newspaper reporter investigating SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) for an upcoming article. As Carl delves into his investigation, a peculiar pattern begins to emerge: a fairytale book, "Poems and Songs from Around the World," is always nearby when a baby dies from SIDS. Carl eventually discovers that the book contains a "culling song," an ancient African song capable of killing anyone who hears it -- instantly. Armed with the culling song's power, Carl soon becomes an unwitting murderer; even *thinking* the culling song in someone's direction is enough to kill that person. Along the way, Carl meets up with Helen Hoover Boyle, a real estate agent who deals in haunted houses, her Wiccan secretary Mona, and Mona's boyfriend, Oyster. Forming an "anti-nuclear family", they set out on a cross-country road trip to destroy all known copies of the song book, before the "virus" is able to spread any further.

Palahniuk's premise is certainly intriguing (albeit difficult to swallow at times), but he stumbles with the execution. The culling song presents the kernel of an interesting idea, but the book feels padded even at a slim 260 pages -- simply put, this is an idea that would have worked much better as a short story. Palahniuk is clumsy in communicating his major themes, taking a heavy-handed approach that simply involves bludgeoning the reader into submission through sheer repetition.

But there is an even larger problem here, one beyond the scope of just this book: Palahniuk is becoming repetitive. He has an incredibly unique voice, but it hasn't expanded much since Fight Club: A Novel and Survivor: A Novel. While reading "Lullaby", I was suddenly struck by an observation -- all of the characters sound exactly alike -- in this novel *and* in Palahniuk's other novels. Likewise, the themes of nihilism, media saturation, and salvation-through-destruction are used and re-used over and over. I understand that authors have common themes that they revisit, but after a while, it begins to feel more like a rut than a style. Palahniuk needs to show more growth in this area quickly or he runs the risk of being seen as a one-trick pony.

Overall, the book is interesting, but it never rises above the level of just "OK". If you've never read Palahniuk before, I'd recommend reading either Fight Club: A Novel or Survivor: A Novel instead of this. Here's hoping that Palahniuk branches out into some new areas with his next novel.
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on September 5, 2003
Lullaby finds Chuck Palahniuk in a transitional phase. Chances are the Portland author won't be competing with the likes of Stephen King any time soon. And his fans should be thankful.
As a horror novel, Lullaby is anything but a traditional entry in the heavily commercialized genre. Palahniuk's sinister sense of humor prevents the author's fourth novel from achieving a significant scare factor. Or at least the typical horror type of fright.
Our hero is Helen Hoover Boyle. She is a real estate agent with an eye for "distressed" property. The kind of homes where the only permanent residents are not exactly of this world. Helen Hoover Boyle sells haunted houses. She sells them to normal families who seem happy enough, until blood starts running down the walls. After that, the buyers will scramble out of there before they even start unpacking their boxes. Easy money for a realtor who knows where to look. And with the help of a police scanner and a practitioner slash secretary named Mona, Helen Hoover Boyle is very good at what she does.
Our narrator is Carl Streator. A newspaper reporter who, while doing a story on sudden infant death syndrome, comes across a book of poems. More like a can of worms actually.
If words could kill.
The discovery of the infamous "culling song" lights the fuse of Lullaby's plot which eventually intersects the lives of our hero and our narrator, spiraling the book into a constantly building power struggle all the way until the bitter ending. With plenty of Palahniuk's signature quirks, Lullaby will surely satisfy Chuck's rapidly growing fan base.
It is the story just below the surface, however, that will get the wheels turning. Lullaby was inspired by the tragic killing of Palahniuk's own father. The murderer was eventually apprehended and convicted. During sentencing, Chuck had to testify as to whether he believed in the death penalty. Keep these facts (not included in the book) in mind, as they will provide a better appreciation of the novel.
Otherwise, Lullaby may prove just too darn entertaining for the average reader to even notice the deeper message. It is truly a page-turning, hilarious ride. Take the horror sticker off and, in my mind, the brilliantly constructed third chapter is reason enough to buy this one today.
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on October 24, 2003
Carl Streator is a journalist working on a story about SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). He is going on emergency calls to the homes of parents who have just lost their children and researching past SIDS cases looking for clues and a story. He arranges to meet Helen Boyle, premier realtor for distressed haunted houses, a parent who lost a child to SIDS almost 20 years ago.
Carl Streators' journey is a twisted maze of supernatural, paranormal, pagan ritual, truth, discovery, and even love.
Chuck Palahnuik begins your journey into 'Lullaby' in a chilling account of paranormal haunting and when your good and scared he taps into your maternal/paternal needs of protecting children by detailing the deaths of infants. I found the prologue and first couple of chapters difficult to read due to the images he evokes.
If your looking for eloquent prose of beauty and light you need to get a different book. 'Lullaby' is full of gritty descriptions, unusual characters, and a very dry dark sense of humor. You will laugh in this book but in the oddest places.
I did enjoy this book but my biggest criticism is he had great insights about the media that was lost in the side plots and characters in this book. The book asks the questions what if you had the power to kill? What if the media told you how to feel, can you control yourself? Does the end justify the means? Does power corrupt?
You will be surprised by the outragous and unusual events that only Chuck Palahnuik could dream up for us. This is a departure from books like 'Choke' and 'Survivor' that were self discoveries and a step toward the genre of Horror. If you like gritty tell it like it is style you'll like this book.
I liked it and would recommend it.
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on January 12, 2004
The best part about "Lullaby" was the summary inside the front cover. The premise sounds exciting enough: an African culling song can kill with words and the heroes, Helen Boyle and Carl Streator, are out to destroy all copies to redeem them from their previous sins. Seems like something original, occult, and obscure enough to be fresh, right? It isn't.
Palahniuk is a connoisseur of good ideas but can't present them. The author falls back on bad angst, juvenile anti-civilization commentary, and mindless repetition to bludgeon readers into believing that he is a brilliant modern writer. He exploits the fascinating philosophy of nihilism without even offering entertainment in return. His characters are indistinguishable and all speak with the same voice - his. Ultimately they can't express what he wants to say with this book, so he falls back on blatant, preachy, tiresome comments about society which provoke little or no thought. His tone inevitably loses what wit it originally possessed (and let's just say he's no Douglas Adams, either) and deteriorates into self-righteous condescension.
"Lullaby" yearns to be brilliantly avant-garde, artistically misunderstood, and appealing to only a selective, free-thinking minority. Unfortunately, it only manages to be shallow and irritating.
If you can put up with Palahniuk's style, you might enjoy this book. Just don't expect too much.
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on April 5, 2012
I read Lullaby a very long time ago in college, and I finally got the book in hardcover. This is by far one of my favorite books by Chuck Palahniuk. The writing style is smooth and the reading is fast, The story is fantastic, witty, and clever. I love the dark undertones, the comments on society, and the characters. If you haven't ever read Mr. P's work, here is the place to start.

"We're living in a teetering tower of babble. A shaky reality of words. A DNA soup for disaster. The natural world destroyed, we're left with this cluttered world of language. Big brother is singing and dancing, and we're left to watch. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but our role is just to be a good audience. To just pay attention and wait for the next disaster."
-Chuck Palahniuk
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on November 12, 2002
There's a reason why Chuck Palahniuk is my favorite author: He's quite possibly the most offensive modern writer on the planet. I'm not talking offensive for the sake of being offensive. Every line is scathing, but with a direction. A clear target. He's always got something to throw the spotlight on and make us see things from a different angle.
And maybe this is just my sick sense of humor, but the offensive material makes it just that much more intense. Everything hits with that much more impact. They say that a good book is written based on real-world events and personal experiences. If this is true, Palahniuk's adventures expose the dark underbelly of human existance. He boldly goes where every other writer is too afraid to go. I'm talking about this because Palahniuk's newest novel, Lullaby, touches on some of the most offensive and controversial material he's ever touched on: Dead babies, necrophelia, religion, and paganism just to name a few.
Getting to the synopsis, Lullaby is (to put a 300-some-odd-page story short) about a journalist on a sudden infant death syndrome assignment, who stumbles on a "culling song" in a poems book that, when read or even thought towards someone, instantly kills them. Of course, this sets off a caper-style chain of events where our hero meets several other dysfunctional characters who take off on a road trip to destroy all copies of the culling song.
Going into too much detail would ruin some of the surprise, and dull those cringing feelings you might experience when you read some of the most offensive lines of the book. Simply put, this book is sort of a mixture of that mushy after-sex feeling and the painful muscle spasms of a dry-heave session. A bittersweet sort of feeling that leaves the reader with a head full of profound thought, a stomach full of nausea, and a smirk in the corner of your mouth that you might not even know is there.
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on June 26, 2003
The good news is that even slow readers can read this one in a day. The bad news is that's because this book is repetitive and largely lacking in substance. The characters are okay, and there are some interesting ecological details, as well as some extradark humor. Still, this is a 10-page short story stretched over 250 pages.
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on September 17, 2015
Like all of Palahnuik's books, I was sad yet relieved when this one ended. Each book I read from him is my new favorite. It's hard to say if this is darker than his others but it had parts where I literally grimaced, winced, tensed up, and shuddered. I started this book on a Tuesday night and had it finished by lunchtime on Wednesday - I just couldn't put it down. I don't like saying his stories have "a twist" because each page is pretty much another turn, another spiral, another unending row of antiqued furniture in a maze of a wholesale warehouse - or a curving, twisted spell in an ancient grimoire. He doesn't pull Sixth Sense "ahas" at the end; rather, each character has their own arc that you never see coming. This book took a lot out of me emotionally and it was worth every second.
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on April 25, 2008
Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk *****

Lullaby is not UpChucks best but it sure is close. It is easily among the best of his work. Better than Choke, Haunted, and Diary. On par with Fight Club, Invisible Monsters, and Survivor. The story is just absurd enough to almost kind of believe and gives insight into why UpChucks work is in a league all it's own.

The story of a man who works a a journalist and has a current assignment on the subject of S.I.D.S. or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. As he begins his assignment he realizes a trend across the country, as all of the parents of the children who died had read them a poem from page 27 in a book of poems from around the world; a culling song. An old African chant used to send the dying to the other side. This is all by mistake that the parents harm their children of course but once the poem falls in to the wrong hand it shows that people have a serious issue with tolerance and self-control. As the main character scourers the country in search for every copy of the book he realizes he has undertaken more then he bargained for.

Lullaby is a insightful (as is all UpChucks work), a page turner, and one that will have you transfixed on what is coming. Palahniuks signature style shines bright here and makes for one of his best novels.
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