This was my first Palahniuk. I had heard that this book was incredibly disturbing and was, of course, intrigued. The book was disturbing, I suppose, but I would not add the modifier "incredibly." The book is, however, graphic and detailed and delves into the more deranged parts of the human mind. Although I had not read Palahniuk before, I have of course seen Fight Club, and I understand that Palahniuk takes extreme situations and explores human interactions and reactions within those situations. Haunted does this and takes it just one step beyond "the line."
The way I think of the book is as a warped reality tv show gone wrong. Imagine a group of people, psychologically messed up because of the realities inflicted upon them and because of the choices they have made. Lock them together in a building with no escape for three months and see what happens. It's like The Cube meets Saw. Palahniuk's characters are actually believable in their extreme behavior and those with weaker stomachs should refrain.
The format the book takes is relatively unique. The characters in the book are identified by nicknames that somehow represent how the author is warped. Each "chapter" includes a narrative, a poem, and a story. The narrative is told from the perspective of one of the individuals locked in the building -- though we are never quite sure which aspiring author is speaking. The narrative is followed by a poem "about" the aspiring author, which hints at something the author has experienced and sheds a little light on the nickname the author has received. The poem is then followed by a story written by the character that has been discussed in the preceding poem. The story explains the primary traumatic incident (or portion of that incident) that resulted in the author's warped personality and nickname.
I liked the format of the book and appreciated Palahniuk's timing. Some of the most intriguing (to me) characters' personalities and nicknames were revealed at the end of the book, which certainly kept me attached to the book -- even though it almost read more like a series of non-related short stories than a novel. In addition, although it was not immediate, I was eventually drawn into the narrative of the authors trapped in the building and felt invested in how it would all play out.
The writing was great, too. I suppose the reason I'm still rambling about this, somewhat incoherently, is because I recognize the good qualities of the book, cannot think of any particularly bad ones, but still was not blown away by the book. I expected to be more disturbed, more intrigued, more saddened, more anything... but mostly I was just reading without much emotion at all. It was certainly good enough to continue reading and good enough to casually recommend, but it made no strong lasting impressions on me.
Recommended for someone who likes gore and exploring the deranged ways in which humans can behave in extreme situations.
THREE AND A HALF of five stars.