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Literature / Lullaby

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Lullaby is a 2002 novel by Chuck Palahniuk.

Carl Streator is your run-of-the-mill reporter, if a bit passive-aggressive. When assigned to a story concerning several recent cases of babies suddenly dying, he seems to find a pattern in every house: the book Poems and Rhymes Around the World, turned to page 27. Upon further inspection, he finds that all of the children have been read something called a culling song...

When he finds himself unconsciously using the song to kill people, Carl realizes he needs to find all copies of the poem and destroy them. As he investigates, he comes across a strange realtor, Helen Hoover Boyle, who seems to know something about the song. Along with her nature-loving Wiccan secretary, Mona and her eco-terrorist boyfriend, Oyster, the two go on a quest to destroy the culling song and its source, the Grimoire.

Tropes found in this work:

  • Animal Wrongs Group: Oyster and whoever follows him. Really, he's enough.
  • Arc Words:
    • "These ____ophobics. These _____oholics."
    • "And I'm counting 1, counting 2, counting 3..."
  • Asshole Victim: Marty the adulterer and, of course, Nash. Maybe Sara Lowenstein.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Carl, Carl, Carl. He's a good man at heart, but is such a mess of emotions that he can't even thinkof the culling song without it killing someone.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Helen survives by possessing a male cop, and she joins Carl in hunting Oyster and Mona. The two hippies have the grimoire and are causing magical anarchy around the country, but Mona tears the culling spell out of the book to keep Oyster from having it.
  • Brown Note: The entire book revolves around one (a killing spell).
  • Eco-Terrorist: The boyfriend of the very odd realtor, Helen Hoover Boyle, turns out to be an eco-terrorist who ends up becoming the Token Evil Teammate.
  • Evil Plan: Helen has a sort of ongoing one with her business:
    1. Find luxury houses in which horrible crimes have occurred.
    2. Send Mona over there to 'exorcise' the house, which somehow traps vengeful spirits.
    3. Sell said houses to people.
    4. Wait for her customers to call her with complaints of apparitions, blood seeping from the lintels, and screaming ghosts.
    5. Buy back the haunted houses for cheap.
    6. Go back to step 3.
  • Grand Theft Me
  • Granola Girl: Mona, who has a very hippie style and outlook, wanting to use the Book of Shadows to save the world.
  • Hairy Girl: Zig-Zagged in a humorous way with Mona, who doesn't shave her legs or underarms, but DOES shave her private hair.
  • Happy Fun Ball: The Culling Song is first found in a book of nursery rhymes.
  • How We Got Here: In an In Medias Res form, where the protagonist starts the narrative at the book's climax, and recounts how they got there, and follows up with the resolution.
  • I Love the Dead:
    • Once Nash gets a hold of the culling song, he uses it to kill supermodels and have sex with their corpses.
    • There's also the more tragic case of Carl having sex with his wife without realizing he's unwittingly killed her.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Taken to a fairly literal extent with a nursery rhyme (a "culling song") that kills those who hear it.
  • It Was with You All Along: The Book of Shadows. Helen bought it at an estate sale, thinking it was a leather day planner and not realizing the cover is human skin.
  • Left Field Description: The protagonist is a journalist who is always noting details.
    Her suit is light blue, but it's not a regular robin's-egg blue. It's the blue of a robin's egg you might find and then worry that it won't hatch because it's dead inside.
  • Man, I Feel Like a Woman: Helen frees Carl from jail by possessing a male police sergeant and releasing him. She then says that she is going to masturbate once he leaves, "for the experience of it."
  • Mercy Kill: The original purpose of the culling song and what Carl tries to do with Helen at the end.
  • Mind Virus: It eventually turns out that merely thinking about the culling song can telepathically transmit it to someone else, making it a lethal Mind Virus.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Oyster
  • Non-Indicative First Episode: First there's the prologue, which deals with two characters who will not be introduced for several chapters. Then there's the actual first chapter, which sees Carl teamed together with a crusty old cop tracking a flying lady. It makes sense... eventually.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Nash tries pulling this on Carl, in regards to the accidental post mortem intercourse Carl had with his wife
  • One Last Song: It's the last song you'll ever hear.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Or, in this case, "password," showing how people are becoming banal and unimaginative.
  • Professional Killer: Helen uses the culling song for this purpose and spends her money on antique furniture.
  • Rich Bitch: Helen
  • Straw Nihilist: Oyster.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Oyster.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Mona. Oyster is a faux one.
  • Words Can Break My Bones: Referenced.