Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby passes the “Would my mom read this?” test.
That’s not an easy test to pass. My mom’s pop culture tastes run fairly mainstream and somewhat bland. She’ll jump into something that’s not in her wheelhouse here and there, but you get much beyond Oprah-NCIS-movies starring Matt Damon, and my mom won’t follow.
But I think I could get her to read Lullaby, and crazier yet, I think she might even enjoy it. That doesn’t say so much about my mom’s adventurous (or lack thereof) spirit, and more about the tale itself, which is about as close to conventional as Palahniuk is probably ever going to get.
Palahniuk starts by focusing on the mystery of crib death, how it happens all the time, yet there’s no real cause there. Certain things can be done to help prevent it – we think – but sometimes, babies just go to sleep and don’t wake up. That in and of itself is horrifying enough, but Lullaby supposes there is a cause: a poem.
Called a culling poem, this particular verse, when read to anyone, leads to their immediate death by no obvious cause. They just cease living, right there, right then. Two of Lullaby‘s characters realize what’s going on, and decide to find all of the copies of the obscure children’s book that contain the culling verse and destroy them.
It’s pretty straightforward as a plot, while thematically Lullaby mostly explores the potential for abuse if you control the power of death and would likely never be held accountable for wielding said power. Would you use it to kill an evil dictator in a foreign land? Would you travel to a poor neighborhood and cull the drug dealers from the street? Or would you give the hairy eyeball to the asshole in front of you in the 12-items-or-less line who clearly has closer to 20 things in his cart?
Delivered in Palahniuk’s dense, brusque prose and with his trademark attention to the oddest of details, Lullaby is a macabre, grotesque commentary on what America is now, and how unchecked power turned it into the nation of invasive species, extinct flora and fauna and polluted beauty that we now know.
Give a copy to your mom. Who knows? She might just like it.