Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lullaby, Chapter 1

I said before that Lullaby had a linear storyline, but that isn't quite true. It is linear by Palahniuk's standard. It bounces between two points in time, but follows those two threads without jumping around on them too much. The two threads follow the past, and the present.Well, "present". This chapter opens with speculation on the subject.
The problem with every story is you tell it after the fact.  
Even play-by-play descriptions on the radio, the home runs and strikeouts, even that's delayed a few minutes. Even live television is postponed a couple seconds. 
Even sound and light can only go so fast. 
Another problem is the teller. The who, what, where, when, and why of the reporter.
I speculated at the end of the last chapter about how reliable our narrator is, apparently forgetting who wrote this book. Of course Carl isn't a reliable narrator--he's an actual character, so everything he tells us are things that happened to him.  He can pretend this is Helen's story, but it won't read like it, because he's going to be shoving himself at us even as he tries to matter-of-factly tell us what happened, and as he himself points out, he's telling us after the fact. Even the most honest person is going to make mistakes and remember things just a little bit differently than they actually were. The narration goes on to tell us that the whole book is being written on the road, from similar diners in different towns as they try to chase down the most recent "miracle".

Now, this is the danger of picking a book I've read before (but long ago, and I blitzed through it). Reading it now, it is painfully apparent who these two characters be alluded to next are supposed to be, but I'm not sure to a first time reader if it would be in another three chapters. So, compromise: I'll out one of them.

The miracle that is described is "The Flying Virgin". A young white* woman with dirty bare feet, an Indian cotton skirt, denim halter top, and dreadlocks is literally flying around (no plane, tragically no jetpack).  She sprays "STOP HAVING BABIES" in insect fogger in the sky, then accidentally flashes the crowd before blowing a few kisses, flashing some peace signs, and flying off. This woman is Mona, Helen's secretary from last chapter.

I'll get to the blatant cultural appropriation this character has going on in a moment, but first (I can't believe I'm saying this) I want to concentrate on her junk.
And there's a bush of brown hair under her arm. The moment before she starts writing, a gust of wind lifts her skirt, and the Flying Virgin's not wearing any panties. Between her legs, she's shaved.
I want to concentrate on her junk because the author so desperately wants us to. Palahniuk was very deliberate in showing us her junk, but first, in showing us that it's the only thing she shaved. Last chapter Mona was described in vaguely infantile terms (sucking on her crystal like a baby with a soother) and in this chapter she is described as seeming pretentious and clueless. She mixes and matches different cultures with little to no knowledge about what they mean and wears them as a statement, divorced of their context. You know at this point she's eventually going to talk about how Native American's are, like, sooo spiritual and isn't that like super cool?  And you're right, she will! Mona seems to think she's doing good, or at least is trying to, but is just steeped so far in her own white privilege that she can't see it. The general response to her will be people rolling their eyes at her affectionately. Oh, look at her, she thinks she's an activist!

Or... that would have been my read of her, if not for the unfortunate up-skirt here which underlines how she's unshaven where people can see it--but where only her boyfriend can see it, she's shaved. I think this is meant to underline both her hypocrisy, but also to make her "fake". Now, I am speculating on what I think Palahniuk is trying to communicate by having her shaved; these are not my feelings on women shaving what ever the hell they want. I see Palahniuk as writing this with a sneer: "Look at how hard she's trying. Look at how she bought all the accessories but in the end is just doing it all to please a man. Look at how she tries to be a child of the Earth but shaves like some sort of plastic Barbie". My general motto being "Do what ever you want so long as no one is getting hurt in ways they didn't consent to", this sort of judgement seeping in from the sides of the pages makes me uncomfortable. The random use of a woman's genitals, and the state of hair they have, as a quick character building thing is also telling of how the author (and this is the author, not the narrator) sees women. Which would not shock me usually, but Palahniuk is gay, so his investment in women's genitals took me by surprise.

Moving on, and wrapping up, Carl reports on people freaking out over the miracle (the can of insect fogger is being sent to the Vatican) in a way that again, feels almost like a sneer.  He goes on to say that this wasn't a miracle: it was magic, and he and Sarge (his travel companion, an older man) aren't chasing after these miracles for religious reasons or to witness anything. They're witch hunters! Hey, it's a fun hook, I'll give him that. We then swerve back to Carl insisting this story is about Helen.
Still, this isn't a story about here and now. Me, the Sarge, the Flying Virgin. Helen Hoover Boyle. What I'm writing is the story of how we met. How we got here. 
All of this judgement, largely aimed at women and common, blue collared folk isn't surprising, in a book that is supposedly about a woman but narrated by a man and concentrates on his feelings seems... typical. I am not sure if this is supposed to be Carl's privilege seeping in, or if it's Palahniuk's, but it's there and it's loud.

Tune in next Thursday for chapter 2!

*I assume white, given the character, but I can't seem to confirm it. However given the fact that this book is written by a white man who is encouraging me to challenge his narrator's bias, I'm going to assume from the lack of mention that she is. Carl is a journalist, and journalists never say "A young white woman" but they definitely would say "A young (any other ethnicity) woman" and another news article is reference about her, featuring a description that lacks race, so I feel this is a safe assumption.


  1. That does seem a little disturbing. Initially it just seemed like a commentary on the weirdness and lack of religious coherence in the events themselves. On second reading - I want to say it shows her suggestible nature and alludes to her boyfriend's personality disorder. But really, in the most charitable interpretation it reflects the narrator's obsession(s) with her.

  2. There is something dreadfully judgy about that whole flash of shaved skin. It makes me feel a little nauseated--not the hair, the author's attitude--and I am fearful that I will not find any of the female characters in this book to be recognizable, believable characters and I do not think I will like what happens to most of them.

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