The Barnes & Noble Review
With Fight Club and Choke, Chuck Palahniuk established his reputation as a tricky, unpredictable writer with enormous gifts and a highly individual vision. Lullaby -- an odd, unsettling, memorable, yet uncategorizable novel -- builds squarely on that foundation.
Researching a series of articles on sudden infant death syndrome, reporter Carl Streator uncovers a curious coincidence: At each crib-death site, he finds the very same book, Poems and Rhymes Around the World, always open to the same African lullaby. By way of experiment, he recites the lullaby to his editor, who dies the following evening. Convinced that he's stumbled onto a piece of dark, murderous magic, Streator hits the road on a mission to destroy all existing copies of Poems and Rhymes, accompanied by an eccentric team that includes two members of a local coven and a real estate agent who specializes in haunted houses. What follows is a charmingly demented road novel that moves from California to New York to New Mexico to Florida and encompasses witchcraft, militant vegetarianism, serial murder, political assassination, and ecological disaster.
Beneath its lurid, supernatural surface, Lullaby is a deeply serious work that has much to say about the pressures and problems of a frantic, overstimulated society. Magic, as Palahniuk describes it, is a potent metaphor for the endless distractions of seductive, predatory media, for the forces that invade -- and control -- our every waking moment, bombarding us endlessly with sensory input and mostly useless information. By turns funny, outrageous, and frightening, Lullaby is the work of a writer deeply attuned to the traumas and distortions of contemporary life. Bill Sheehan
Despite the soothing title, readers know better than to anticipate a kinder, gentler novel from the author of Fight Club. On its surface, Lullaby is a fable of supernatural horror, one that concerns a newspaper reporter researching sudden infant death syndrome who discovers a fatal poem in a children's anthology, a verse that kills the listener whenever someone recites (or even thinks) its lines. While trying to destroy every copy of the anthology, he succumbs to the temptation to inflict the poem's evil power on those who annoy him (which, in Palahniuk's universe, means plenty of casualties). Such a plot outline barely hints at the range of the author's thematic obsessions, which here include consumerism, necrophilia, radical environmentalism, class-action suits, identity and free will, sensory overload ("Imagine a plague you catch through your ears") and the never-ending horrors of real estate. 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.
Life is hell for people in Palahniuk's fictional world (Fight Club; Choke). His latest cast of miserable characters includes hack reporter Carl Streator and Helen Hoover Boyle, a real estate agent whose specialty is the sale of distressed homes those haunted by the crimes previously committed in them. Both have lost children to sudden infant death syndrome, precipitated not by a medical condition but by reading their babies an ancient magic culling song included in a library book of poems from around the world. Once the poem is in one's mind, it's easy to kill anyone one pleases, and the body count is formidable as Carl and Helen take off on a trip to locate and destroy copies of the poem. They are joined in this macabre quest by two witches-in-training, Helen's assistant, Mona, and her boyfriend, Oyster. This is vintage Palahniuk: weird, creepy, twisted, upsetting, and ultimately a great read for anyone who wants to be scared for pleasure. This cult author's novel should be in public libraries everywhere. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/02.] Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Chuck Palahniuk's impressively febrile imagination now yields Lullaby, the story of a sweet-sounding weapon of mass destruction. ...with this fourth novel Mr. Palahniuk further refines his ability to create parables that are as substantial as they are off-the-wall. Janet Maslin
That most rambunctious of American novelists, Chuck Palahniuk, is at it again.... There's so much comic energy, so much manic imagination, so much satirical fire on display.
Lullaby continues Plahniuk's intriguing, suspenseful refrain. A story so eccentric and complex that you begin to understand why Palahniuk's literature is a breed all its own.
The latest comic outrage from Palahniuk (Choke, 2001, etc.) concerns a lethal African poem, an unwitting serial killer, a haunted-house broker, and a frozen baby. In other words, the usual Palahniuk fare. Carl Streator is a grizzled City Desk reporter whose outlook on life has a lot to do with years of interviewing grief-stricken parents, spouses, children, victims, and survivors. His latest investigation is a series of crib deaths. A very good reporter, one thing he's got is an eye for detail, and he notices that there's always a copy of the same book (Poems and Rhymes Around the World) at the scene of these deaths. In fact, more often than not, the book is open to an African nursery rhyme called a "culling chant." A deadly lullaby? It sounds crazy, but Carl discovers that simply by thinking about someone while reciting the poem he can knock him off in no time at all. First, his editor dies. Then an annoying radio host named Dr. Sara. It's too much to be a coincidence: Carl needs help-and fast, before he kills off everyone he knows. He investigates the book and finds that it was published in a small edition now mainly held in public libraries, so he begins by tracking down everyone known to have checked the book out. This brings him to the office of Helen Hoover Boyle, a realtor who makes a good living selling haunted houses-and reselling them a few months later after the owners move out. A son of Helen's died of crib death about 20 years ago, and she's reluctant to talk to Carl until he gains the confidence of her Wiccan secretary, Mona Sabbat. Together, Carl, Helen, Mona, and Mona's ecoterrorist/scam-artist boyfriend Oyster set out across the country to find and destroy every one ofthe 200-plus remaining copies of Poems and Rhymes. But can Carl (and Helen) forget the chant themselves? Pandora never did manage to get her box shut, after all. Outrageous, darkly comic fun of the sort you'd expect from Palahniuk.
“A story so eccentric and complex that you begin to understand why Palahniuk's literature is a breed all its own.” —USA Today
“Mr. Palahniuk further refines his ability to create parables that are as substantial as they are off-the-wall.” —The New York Times
“That most rambunctious of American novelists, Chuck Palahniuk, is at it again. . . . There's so much comic energy, so much manic imagination, so much satirical fire on display.” —Newsday
“Dark riffing on modernity is the reason people read Palahniuk. His books are not so much novels as jagged fables, cautionary tales about the creeping peril represented by almost everything.” —Time
“Genius-on-sixteen-different-levels . . . constantly surprising, disturbingly funny . . . Genuinely subversive.” —BookForum
“Among sick puppies, Palahniuk is the top dog. . . . A unique talent.” —People
“More twisted than a sack of pretzels and edgier than an octagon, Chuck Palahniuk has pumped out another memorable read. . . This is his best yet.” —Playboy
“Few writers this side of Kurt Vonnegut can summon up the intensity and precision to control such a blackly humorous situation. . . . Palahniuk is proving to be an accessible and ambitious writer of fables from the culture wars.” —St. Petersburg Times
“Palahniuk conjures grief, confusion, mystery and fear from the unlikeliest sources . . . [and] teases amusement form the darkest corners of our culture.” —The Sunday Oregonian
“By turns disturbing, creepy, sweet, sad, horrible and exquisite. . . . A harrowing and hilarious glimpse into the future of civilization.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“[Palahniuk] knows how to spin whacked-out stories particular to our times. . . . Employs a playfully perverse wit and a good eye for repellent details.” —The Seattle Times
“Twisted and nihilistic . . . The novel packs a dark comic wallop.” —Daily News
“A darkly twisted yarn. . . Palahniuk has succeeded in crafting a story that is taut and compelling, insightful and scathing, deeply disturbing and deeply disturbed.” —CNN.com
“Deliriously rich in ideas and entertaining in its stream-of-consciousness riffing.” —Book
“Outrageous, darkly comic fun.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“This is vintage Palahniuk: weird, creepy, twisted, upsetting, and ultimately a great read.”—Library Journal