Carl Streator, a journalist investigating Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, discover its cause: a lullaby in a book of poems, actually a magic spell, a "culling" song intended to bring a merciful death to loved ones. He then, along with some companions, goes on a road trip to gather and destroy all the pages in all the books with this song.
Of course, this is the basic story and just touches on what the story is actually about. Actually, it's a little hard to discern a specific theme here. It feels some what unfocused, like Palahniuk had something to say, didn't actually know what it was or how to say it, and scattergunned you with several. The past, the media, history and what parts they play to make you who you are. And if I'm reading this correctly, he seems to be saying, we have no choice. It is fatalism, but the story goes on, on the road, and I get the impression that Palahniuk is taking a cue from Albert Camus in that we must find our own meanings in absurd lives.
But that's just my off the cuff analysis. It's why I gave the book four stars. Something about the (possible) theme(s) resonated with me and I have the feeling I'll be thinking about this book for a while to come. It might be due to my own personal life and circumstances, but I found the story very touching.
Storytelling-wise, however, there were some logic issues to hurdle. For one, it doesn't seem likely that one would succeed at tracking down and destroying every copy of even a small press book. There were only five hundred copies to find. Doesn't sound like much, but it'd still be a lot harder than one would think. Also, Streator's particular situation didn't ring true for me. I get that his own personal demon was that he inadvertently used the culling song on his wife and kid, killing them both. But how could he not know that his wife was dead when he made love to her the last time? Even if she was still warm he should be able to hear her breathe, feel some response you'd think. I dunno. Maybe the author was trying to make some statement about Streator's connectivity (or lack of connectivity) with his wife. I like to think he was making some kind of statement, because otherwise it seems like he was just trying to be gross.
But the issues were pretty easy for me to dismiss as unimportant overall. The prose flowed and the characterizations were quirky and memorable. I guess "darkly funny" is a good description. I had no problem getting wrapped up in the story. I know that Palahniuk has the rep for writing some disturbing/perverse stuff. Yeah, this one has necrophilia, frozen dead babies and a body-cavity search scene. Certainly, this is not for the faint of heart. Maybe I'm jaded, but I didn't think it was too extreme. More to the point, however, none of it felt gratuitous and he seemed to be applying some restraint.
It's worthy to note that Palahniuk wrote this during a particularly difficult time his life, when his father was murdered and Palahniuk had to weigh in on whether or not to try for the death penalty for the killer. Certainly, knowing these circumstances makes Lullaby
thematically more clear (at least for me).
This was the first book by Chuck Palahniuk I've read (yeah, haven't read Fight Club
yet-- but I saw the movie. I'll get to it), so I can't exactly say how it compares to his other works. For me, Lullaby
was dark, funny, disturbing, complex and surprisingly touching. Although it seems kind of rough around the edges in some ways and a little unfocused, it is definitely a book that makes an impression. I liked it.
And I probably will be choosing my words much more carefully in the future. Like it says in the book, sticks and stones may break your bones but words can kill.