Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt youThis is short but appropriate quote before the prologue. I realize that at some point I did something to my copy of the book I have never done to a book in my life: I wrote in it. So far I'm only seeing a few underlines, and I don't know how far I got on a re-read of it, but it's like past me is pointing out things and saying "This isn't a spoiler since you already know what happens, but remember this, this is important" and I can't help but appreciate that past me did that for me. She was a real doll sometimes.
The first chapter is simply titled "Prologue" and like many chapters in Palahniuk's books, it is short. We're dropped into descriptions of haunted houses, and then introduced to our "Hero" of the story, Helen Hoover Boyle. She's a real estate agent who runs a rather ingenious scam. She sells haunted houses. Not cold spots, but blood running down the walls. The person who moved in will call, and she convinces them that they should just let her resell it and they won't say a word. I mean, sure, they could try to prove the place is unlivable but that's hard to do and it gets publicized and then if they lose the lawsuit it's impossible to resell--and don't even unpack, we'll tell new people you're moving. For work. You loved the place! She has a rotation of houses she does this with, and is constantly watching the police scanner and the newspaper for violent crimes taking places in houses so she can add another one to the roster, which is all kept neatly written out in her daily planner, a book bound in what looks like red leather.
Helen, she's wearing a white suit and shoes, but not snow white. It's more the white of downhill skiing in Banff with a private car and driver on call, fourteen pieces of matched luggage, and a suite at the Hotel Lake Louise.She is always monochromatic, but she's never wearing just a color, it's always described like that. I'm underlining it now, here, because Palaniuk loves to show, not tell (a breath of fresh air from 50 Shades) and so these little things that when I was younger I wrote off as stylistic moments are actually his way of telling us about a character. So what is he telling us here, and in future moments with this style of description?
We get a clear mental image of Helen, we see someone polished and posh, but not necessarily pristine. She isn't wearing virginal, pure white, she's wearing white of wealth and luxury. We see a woman who is trying to look good, and is trying to look well-off (and succeeding). Helen Hoover Boyle is pristine and ruthless. There is nothing we're given at this point to make us think anything else. The scheme she runs, and how normal her day is around it, underline how ruthless she is. Personally, I like that. It is rare we get a woman who is supposed to be sympathetic, competent, over the age of 25 (a quick google search yields no response, but Helen is somewhere in her forties to fifties) and still hyper competent and utterly ruthless.
Now, why did I put hero in quotation marks above there? I adore Helen, but I do not think of her as the main character, but rather the love interest. The narrator, who is not named or on page this chapter (Carl), is in my mind the main character. Having not read this book in 6 years, I won't speculate too much on who the main character is yet, but I don't think we're going to get a Great Gatsby scenario where Carl is the narrator but Helen is the star. Perhaps the narrative means she is, in her ruthlessness and poise, actually the more heroic one of the two, but even then that seems spotty. I'll touch on this again in later chapters.
We meet Mona (who I'll get into more next post), Helen's secretary who is a New Aged Hippy, and somewhere in her late teens to early twenties. She is employed to do things like figure out if houses Helen is hunting are haunted or not. We don't get much information about Mona yet, but I want to point out that we're given a book that has the first chapter passing the Bechdel test in between descriptions of horrific haunted houses and Helen giving fairly bland orders to Mona, pick up her dry cleaning and for the love of God can she get some decent coffee in this place what is this crap? All in-between trying to do today's crossword. The narrator, Carl, talks to the reader directly near the end of the chapter, and there is a lot of foreshadowing/establishing here, so I'll post the excerpt.
This was Helen Hoover Boyle. Our Hero. Now dead but not dead. Here was just another day in her life. This was the life she lived before I came along. Maybe this is a love story, maybe not. It depends on how much I can believe in myself.
The book drops us in and shows us a character who is brimming with agency and her own shit, and then we have the white male protagonist tell us that this is about her as he starts making it about himself, and I can't help but wonder if this was deliberate. Did Palahniuk mean to make Carl a less reliable narrator by introducing us to him being self-absorbed, or are we meant to think he is about to tell us Helen's story, on its own merit, not only in how it related to him?
This is about Helen Hoover Boyle. Her haunting me. The way a song stays in your head. The way you think life should be. How anything holds your attention. How your past goes with you into every day of your future.
That's the end of this chapter (and post). I'm still feeling out doing a deconstruction where I'm not just suffering through obviously terrible and way too long chapters, so feel free to point out things you find are or are not working format/style wise as well as things that strike you about the book. Until next Thursday, where hopefully things will start to happen.