Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk

22288I don’t get the point of this book. It’s ostensibly a collection of gross-out stories billed as the sickest you’ll see in print. But it’s not even close. Maybe I’m jaded but despite being relatively sheltered from the depravities of online forums like 4chan and parts of Reddit I didn’t feel nauseated even once reading these stories. It’s a little funny citing this as a weakness (I generally prefer my reading to be at peace with my eating), but I approached this book and its hyperbolic marketing with the thrill of the forbidden and it ended up being a bunch of warmed-over camp tales.

The first story – the most infamously gross, I gather – is about an unfortunate onanist whose autoerotic swimming pool exertions lead a vent to suck his intestines out of his ass. This is a genuinely grotesque thought, but that’s all there is to these stories: they mix sex and excretions and nasty little people and expect the mix to shock you. Later stories somewhat up the ante by having people abuse each other in horrible ways. A shameless journalist fabricates a horrible child porn fetish about a source and then kills him after strewing incriminating evidence all around. A progeriac adolescent swindles women into sleeping with him and then uses that single act of indiscretion to blackmail them into more degradations. Etc.

Like I said: unpleasant. But if the purpose of the collection is to gross you out, these stories pale in comparison to the shock material available in the dark corners of the Internet (see the last paragraph of this article, for example). And if the purpose of the collection instead is to say something profound about the debasement of the human condition, then the stories still fail to live up to the horrors that real life has to offer: North Korean prison camps; the Rwandan genocide; Unit 731; children held in hopeless captivity for years; etc. etc.

Whether your goal is titillation or a better understanding of the nature of evil, you’ll find better sources for these objectives than Haunted.

★☆☆☆☆

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