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The sound of violence – ‘The Invention of Sound’

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I’m always glad to see a new Chuck Palahniuk book. While I recognize that not everyone is as engaged as I am by his brand of blunt-force transgression, it’s tough to deny that he inhabits an important space in the literary realm. His willingness to push deep-down unpleasantness to the surface, to follow trends and tendencies to their bleakest, darkest outcomes, isn’t something you often see on the bestseller lists.

His latest title is “The Invention of Sound” (Grand Central Publishing, $27). It’s a twisted two-hander of sorts, with two primary points of view. Each of these people is consumed by a dark obsession, though they pursue and embrace those obsessions in different ways.

On the one hand, a broken man fully consumed by a Quixotic quest to track down his daughter, holding out hope that he will find her despite the years that have passed and traveling some dark paths to get there. On the other, a notorious Hollywood Foley artist, one whose gifts for perfectly capturing the sounds of violence and pain leave her regarded with unease and suspicion. The two careen toward each other, with neither knowing the other or having any idea what havoc their unexpected collision might wreak.

Palahniuk has always been fascinated with what goes on in the shadows cast by polite society. “The Invention of Sound” delves into those shadows, crafting an ugly and compelling look at the horror and violence lurking beneath the veneer, illustrating the notion that we never really comprehend what people are capable of – even those we think we know.

Gates Foster has been searching for his daughter Lucy for 17 years. One day, she was with him at his office and simply … disappeared, leaving behind no trace aside from a grainy surveillance video of her walking hand in hand with a slightly older girl. Every day since has been consumed with the search. So desperate is Gates is that he even searches the truly evil corners of the dark web that may have become Lucy’s ultimate destination, risking his safety and his soul alike.

Mitzi Ives is Hollywood’s most renowned and reviled Foley artist. The latest in a generational line of sound craftspeople, she excels at the family business. The Ives specialty is and has always been screams; they have proven capable of delivering the sorts of screams that are bloodcurdlingly real. So real that they have always been industry pariahs, a dirty little secret that producers have nevertheless paid millions to know.

However, Mitzi has a secret of her own, a disturbing family secret that is the key to their decades-long success in the cinematic sound industry. It’s a secret that may prove her downfall, as it attracts the attention of Gates Foster, who has lost everything and is desperate for the slightest chance that he can get some piece of his life back.

But secrets beget secrets, and there are some very powerful institutions out there willing to do whatever it takes to keep their own dark truths from being brought to light. Both Gates and Mitzi must come to terms with what they have done – and what they are prepared to do – in the face of the mysterious forces brought to bear against them.

Some of that might ring a little vague, which is very much by design – many of the plot specifics in “The Invention of Sound” will be far more effective without prior knowledge. Fret not, because you’ll be dropped into the unsettling viscerality of it all very quickly and you’ll be grateful for the opportunity to experience it without expectation.

We’ve seen a lot of condemnation of capitalism’s evils from Palahniuk over the years; his disdain for commodification and consumerism are well-documented. Here, he satirizes the entertainment industry’s dark pragmatism with regard to success, teasing out the general “the ends justify the means” philosophy into a horrible, yet bleakly logical conclusion. Profit derived from pain is still profit; it all boils down to what you’re willing to accept as the cost of doing business – and that’s just as true in the creative realm as anywhere else.

As per usual with Palahniuk, things get a little queasy from time to time. He has never shied away from ideas and imagery designed to churn the stomach and chill the blood; “The Invention of Sound” finds plenty of opportunities for the author to indulge his talents and affinities for that kind of challenging evocation. And those talents are considerable – his tight-yet-florid writing style allows him to create these moments of intense unpleasantness without numbing his audience or descending into schlock. No one crafts splatter quite like Chuck Palahniuk.

“The Invention of Sound” is gross and weird and meta and darkly funny – the kind of work we’ve come to expect from Pahlaniuk. Smart and subversive, the book manages to take aim at some of the author’s familiar targets and maintain the old transgressive energy while also bringing something new to the table. A fast read that nevertheless lingers in the consciousness.

You heard it here first.

Last modified on Monday, 14 September 2020 12:28

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