From the author of the New York Times bestseller Choke and the cult classic Fight Club, a cunningly plotted novel about the ultimate verbal weapon, one that reinvents the apocalyptic thriller for our times. Carl Streator is a solitary widower and a fortyish newspaper reporter who is assigned to do a series of articles on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In the course of this investigation he discovers an ominous thread: the presence at the death scenes of the anthology Poems and Rhymes Around the World, all opened to the page where there appears an African chant, or "culling song." This song turns out to be lethal when spoken or even thought in anyone's direction-and once it lodges in Streator's brain he finds himself becoming an involuntary serial killer. So he teams up with a real estate broker, one Helen Hoover Boyle-who specializes in selling haunted (or "distressed") houses (wonderfully high turnover), and who lost a child to the culling song years before-for a cross-country odyssey to remove all copies of the book from libraries, lest this deadly verbal virus spread and wipe out human life.
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Knopf Group E-Books
January 31, 2004
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Adobe DRM EPUB
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Excerpt from Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
At first, the new owner pretends he never looked at the living room floor. Never really looked. Not the first time they toured the house. Not when the inspector showed them through it. They'd measured rooms and told the movers where to set the couch and piano, hauled in everything they owned, and never really stopped to look at the living room floor. They pretend.
Then on the first morning they come downstairs, there it is, scratched in the white-oak floor:
Some new owners pretend a friend has done it as a joke. Others are sure it's because they didn't tip the movers.
A couple of nights later, a baby starts to cry from inside the north wall of the master bedroom.
This is when they usually call.
And this new owner on the phone is not what our hero, Helen Hoover Boyle, needs this morning.
This stammering and whining.
What she needs is a new cup of coffee and a seven-letter word for "poultry." She needs to hear what's happening on the police scanner. Helen Boyle snaps her fingers until her secretary looks in from the outer office. Our hero wraps both hands around the mouthpiece and points the telephone receiver at the scanner, saying, "It's a code nine-eleven."
And her secretary, Mona, shrugs and says, "So?"
So she needs to look it up in the codebook.
And Mona says, "Relax. It's a shoplifter."
Murders, suicides, serial killers, accidental overdoses, you can't wait until this stuff is on the front page of the newspaper. You can't let another agent beat you to the next rainmaker.
Helen needs the new owner at 325 Crestwood Terrace to shut up a minute.
Of course, the message appeared in the living room floor. What's odd is the baby doesn't usually start until the third night. First the phantom message, then the baby cries all night. If the owners last long enough, they'll be calling in another week about the face that appears, reflected in the water when you fill the bathtub. A wadded-up face of wrinkles, the eyes hollowed-out dark holes.
The third week brings the phantom shadows that circle around and around the dining room walls when everybody is seated at the table. There might be more events after that, but nobody's lasted a fourth week.
To the new owner, Helen Hoover Boyle says, "Unless you're ready to go to court and prove the house is unlivable, unless you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the previous owners knew this was happening . . ." She says, "I have to tell you." She says, "You lose a case like this, after you generate all this bad publicity, and that house will be worthless."
It's not a bad house, 325 Crestwood Terrace, English Tudor, newer composition roof, four bedrooms, three and a half baths. An in-ground pool. Our hero doesn't even have to look at the fact sheet. She's sold this house six times in the past two years.