As the title suggests the book is about a tiny poetry called the “The Culling Song”. It has its origin in Africa and the song is sung to tiny children in times of grief like famines and droughts; or to crippled warriors in a battlefield who are about to die. It’s a song to end their pain. It’s a Lullaby.
This is how the narrator, Carl Streator, explains it to his newspaper editor who conveniently dies the next day. Carl is investigating crib deaths and this is how he comes across this piece of poetry. Reading it to Duncan, his editor was just an experiment. Now Carl knows what the tiny song can do. And Carl reading it to his editor was, in his own words, just an experiment. So when he drops dead Carl, instead of feeling misgiving, feels a sense of responsibility in annihilating the poem from the face of the earth itself.
“The Culling Song” can be found on page 27 of the book called “Poems and Rhymes from Around the World”. This book is available at every library waiting to be read by unsuspecting mothers to their children at bed time…they will never wake up! Carl and a few others who are aware of such things as people dropping dead randomly take up the cause for the good!
On another side of the story is Helen, a real estate agent who earns by selling demented residential property to innocent buyers and then making them sign a quit claim deed when the owner begins complaining about a head appearing in the bath tub or shadows walking across the walls. Or, she tells them to give her the sole right to re-sell the house to other buyers. Of course, the dementia and head in the bath tub, or the shadows on the wall, or the bloody walls remain secret between the owner and Helen. A very unlikely character to take up such a cause but she does so with aplomb. More than once we feel that Helen is much much more than what she seems to be. And rightly so!
Other characters include a guy called “Oyster” and a lady called Mona. Another very unorthodox pool of characters to be involved with Helen and Carl but then when was the last time you read Chuck Palahniuk and did not end up amazed.
Chuck Palahniuk, of the “Fight Club” fame, has a very straight forward way of writing. He is crisp and clear about what he wants the reader to understand. He has a very nonchalant way of describing even weird scenes that makes the reader accept it. And this is because he writes with so much alacrity! There are some cool descriptive lines which go as follows:
“The tile beats a tiny rhythm under my fingertips. The bathtub vibrates with shouts coming through the floor. Either a prehistoric flying dinosaur awakened by a nuclear test is about to destroy the people downstairs or their television’s too loud.”
This is just one of the many straight faced humour that the author uses to make a book based on magic and spell feel so much more acceptable and different. I mean, after the advent of Harry Potter people always think that magic and magicians cannot become cooler. Maybe they can’t. But this is just so much different from what I was expecting when I read the prologue and found out that the book’s based upon a premise that is so overused.
But the reader should not get an impression that the book is only about magic. No sir it’s not. The book touches on many other tangents of the human nature. In a very Palahniuk sort of way the author makes so much sense. He uses the same imagery we see day after day but what he squeezes out of the image is nothing sort of an anthem for the worldly wise. He dissects every movement with clarity and forces us to question the more than accepted rules of human nature. The author uses his language to say so much about how the world is not such a grand place to be like everyone makes it out to be. He cleverly uses the “Big Brother” aspect of George Orwell too.
“Big Brother isn’t watching. He’s singing and dancing. He’s pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother’s busy holding your attention every moment you’re awake. He’s making sure you’re always distracted. He’s making sure you’re fully absorbed. He’s making sure your imagination withers. Until it’s as useful as your appendix. He’s making sure your attention is always filled. And this being fed, it’s worse than being watched. With the world always filling you, no one has to worry about what’s in your mind. With everyone’s imagination atrophied, no one will ever be a threat to the world.”
He makes a very profound point about how the big bad media is drying up the intelligence of the masses. But it’s a small point he makes and more often than not people just ignore it. Go look for it.
Oh hell I’ll give it to you:
“Experts in ancient Greek culture say that people back then didn’t see their thoughts as belonging to them. When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love. Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy, but now they call this free will.”
The end will hit a little bit and put some questions forward. I have no clue why the Sarge is with him, for example. But it won’t make you feel empty. It’ll make you feel like you’re satisfied. Not the kind of satisfaction you get when you read a good book. It’s the kind of satisfaction that you get when you read a really good book which tells you a story; not very confusing and out of the world but, at the same time, educates you a little bit in such a non-preachy way that you don’t feel patronised.
The book is funny in its own way. The author leaves an impression which, succinctly put, translates into “I need to read more of him.
– Siddiqui F.