The consequences of media saturation are the basis for an urban nightmare in Lullaby
, Chuck Palahniuk's darkly comic and often dazzling thriller. Assigned to write a series of feature articles investigating SIDS, troubled newspaper reporter Carl Streator begins to notice a pattern among the cases he encounters: each child was read the same poem prior to his or her death. His research and a tip from a necrophilic paramedic lead him to Helen Hoover Boyle, a real estate agent who sells "distressed" (demonized) homes, assured of their instant turnover. Boyle and Streator have both lost children to "crib death," and she confirms Streator's suspicions: the poem is an ancient lullaby or "culling song" that is lethal if spoken--or even thought--in a victim's direction. The misanthropic Streator, now armed with a deadly and uncontrollably catchy tune, goes on a minor killing spree until he recognizes his crimes and the song's devastating potential. Lullaby
then turns into something of a road trip narrative, with Streator, Boyle, her empty-headed Wiccan secretary Mona, and Mona's vigilante boyfriend Oyster setting out across the U.S. to track down and destroy all copies of the poem.
In his previous works, including the cult favorite Fight Club, Palahniuk has demonstrated a fondness for making statements about the condition of humanity, and he uses Lullaby like a blunt object to repeatedly overstate his generally dim view. Such dogmatic venom undermines the persuasiveness of his thesis about mass communication and free will, but thankfully, Palahniuk offers some respite here by allowing for sympathy and love, as well as through his razor-sharp humor, such as his mock listings for Helen's possessed properties: "six bedrooms, four baths, pine-paneled entryway, and blood running down the kitchen walls...." At such moments, Lullaby casts a powerful spell. --Ross Doll
From Publishers Weekly
"I need to rebel against myself. It's the opposite of following your bliss. I need to do what I most fear." Beleaguered reporter Carl Streator is stuck writing about SIDS and grieving for his dead wife and child; he copes by building perfect model homes and smashing them with a bare foot. But things only get worse: Carl accidentally memorizes an ancient African "culling song" that kills anyone he focuses on while mentally reciting it, until killing "gets to be a bad habit." His only friend, Nash, a creepy necrophiliac coroner, amuses himself with Carl's victims. Salvation of a sort comes in the form of Helen Hoover Boyle, a witch making a tidy living as a real estate broker selling-and quickly reselling-haunted houses. She, too, knows the culling song and finances her diamond addiction by freelancing as a telepathic assassin. Carl and Helen hit the road with Helen's Wiccan assistant, Mona, and her blackmailing boyfriend, Oyster, on a search-and-destroy mission for all outstanding copies of the culling song, as well as an all-powerful master tome of spells, a grimoire. Hilarious satire, both supernatural and scatological, ensues, the subtext of which seems to be Palahniuk's conviction that information has become a weapon ("Imagine a plague you catch through your ears"), and the bizarre love affair between Helen and Carl offers the lone linear thread in a field of narrative flak bursts. 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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.