By Chuck Palahniuk
Synopsis: Carl Streader is a reporter investigating Sudden Infant Death Syndrome for a soft-news feature. After responding to several calls with paramedics, he notices that all the dead children were read the same poem from the same library book the night before they died. It's a "culling song" - an ancient African spell for euthenising sick or old people. Researching it, he meets a woman who killed her own child with it accidentally. He himself accidentally killed his own wife and child with the same poem 20 years earlier. Together, the man and the woman must find and destroy all copies of this book, and try not to kill every rude sonofabitch that gets in their way.
I decided to read this book during the "winter" readathon thinking it was a Chuck Palahniuk book that I hadn't read yet. After the first chapter I recognised that I had at least started it before, and it soon became clear that I had actually finished the book...I just didn't remember reading it. Take that as you will, although you should probably take it to mean that I found this book MEH.
I adore Palahniuk, he has a writing style that is uniquely his, and while this book was definitely a "Palahniuk book" it just didn't hit the same heights as the other books of his I've read. Part of the problem is the synopsis. It's a little misleading, or at least, it was to me. It lead me to believe the story would be more detective-y, and even though they state quite clearly that the cause of the deaths is the culling song, I thought there'd be more of a journey to discover that. Instead the majority of the story follows Carl's cross country trips, accompanied by Helen (the woman mentioned in the synopsis) and their two pseudo-children (Oyster and Mona - Helen's assistant), to find and destroy all the copies of the culling song, and the grimoire that originally held the song. And even this is a small part of the story, the stronger focus is the conflicts between Carl, Helen, Oyster and Mona, all who have very, very different views on the world, and all desire the grimoire for different reasons. Carl just wants to destroy it, Helen wants it so she can restore a life that's lost, while Mona and Oyster want it so they can "better" the world with their various brands of eco-terrorism.
I think the characters were the real problem for me. I just felt like the book rushed from event to event so quickly that I never really got a chance to get to know who they are. Instead they were a series of quirks, habits, or mannerisms. I didn't feel like there was any depth to the characters or the events of the novel. There were so many little things going on (in quite a short novel) that they just didn't have the space to grow and flourish. There was an inkling of interest that began to form about the generation gap between the two older adults (Carl and Helen) and the younger two (Mona and Oyster) but just as I was getting into it the book finished.
So not a winner for me unfortunately. The basic concept of words having the power to kill (or bring people back to life, or make animals talk etc) has great potential but it just fell by the wayside in this book. It's well written, but it just couldn't capture my attention as I read it, and obviously wasn't iconic enough for me to even remember reading it! Read with caution!