Lullaby (Palahniuk novel)

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First edition cover
AuthorChuck Palahniuk
Cover artistRodrigo Corral
Judy Manfredi
CountryUnited States
GenreHorror, satire
Publication date
September 17, 2002
Media typePrint (hardcover)
813/.54 21
LC ClassPS3566.A4554 L86 2002

Lullaby is a horror-satire novel by American author Chuck Palahniuk, published in 2002. It won the 2003 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, and was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel in 2002.

Plot summary[edit]

Lullaby is the story of Carl Streator, a newspaper reporter who has been assigned to write articles on a series of cases of sudden infant death syndrome, from which his own child had died. Carl discovers that his wife and child had died immediately after he read them a "culling song", or African chant, from a book entitled Poems and Rhymes Around the World. As Carl learns, the culling song has the power to kill anyone it is spoken to. Because of the stress of his life, it became unusually powerful, allowing him to kill by only thinking the poem. During his investigations into other SIDS cases for his article, he finds that a copy of the book was at the scene of each death. In every case, the book was open to a page that contained the "culling song". Carl unintentionally memorizes the deadly poem and he semi-voluntarily becomes a serial killer (killing, for example, abusive radio hosts and people who elbow into an elevator when he is late for work). He then turns to Helen Hoover Boyle, a real estate agent who has also found the culling song in the same book and knows of its destructive power. While she is unable to help him stop using the culling song, she is willing to help him stop anyone else from being able to use it again. The two of them decide to go on a road trip across the country to find all remaining copies of the book and remove and destroy the page containing the song. They are joined by Helen's hippie assistant, Mona "Mulberry" Sabbat, and Mona's boyfriend, a nihilistic environmentalist named Oyster. Carl now must not only deal with the dangers of the culling song, but with the risk of it falling into the hands of Oyster, who may want to use it for sinister purposes.

In addition to tracking down and destroying any copy of Poems and Rhymes Around the World, the foursome hope to find a "grimoire", a hypothesized spellbook that is the source of the culling spell. Carl wants to destroy it, believing that the knowledge contained in it is too dangerous, while the others in his group want to learn what other spells it contains—partly in the hope that there is a spell to resurrect the dead. The group eventually abandons Oyster on the side of the highway after he assaults Helen in an attempt to learn the culling spell. Mona eventually figures out that the datebook Helen had been carrying throughout the trip is the grimoire they had been looking for, written in invisible ink. Helen had acquired it years earlier in the estate of the publisher of Poems and Rhymes Around the World whom she had killed with the culling spell as revenge for the deaths of her husband and child.

Initially, Mona attempts to persuade Helen and Carl to allow her to translate the book, but they are distrustful of her relationship with Oyster, leaving Mona infuriated. Helen with the resources she obtained from the publisher's estate translates the book, which in addition to the culling song contains other spells, such as a flying spell and a spell that allows the user to possess others. Carl and Helen have a romantic moment where they declare their love for each other, but Carl later is left skeptical of the relationship after Mona convinces him that Helen was using a love spell to control him. After confronting Helen about the accusation Carl decides to kill Nash, a paramedic who he inadvertently gave knowledge of the culling song to, who has been murdering beautiful models, so he can have sex with their bodies.

After his confrontation with Nash, Carl surrenders himself to the police who place him in a high security prison. During a rectal exam the sergeant of the police force asks him if "he is up for a quickie"; to Carl's astonishment Helen has possessed the officer's body and helps Carl escape. During this time Oyster steals the grimoire (with the exception of the culling song) with the help of Mona and uses it to possess Helen and commit suicide. With her last amount of energy Helen possesses the police sergeant and joins Carl to kill Mona and Oyster who have been using the spells to promote their extremist views.


Lullaby uses a framing device, alternating between the normal, linear narrative and the temporal end after every few chapters. Palahniuk often uses this format alongside a major plot twist near the end of the book which relates in some way to this temporal end (what Palahniuk refers to as "the hidden gun").

Lullaby starts with Mr. Streator talking to the reader, narrating where he is today and why he is going to tell us the backstory that will give us perspective on his current situation. "Still, this isn't a story about here and now. Me, the Sarge, the Flying Virgin. Helen Hoover Boyle. What I'm writing is the story of how we met. How we got here"[1].

This present tense information that makes this book a frame story is incorporated every few chapters as its own chapter, entirely italicized. Palahniuk uses these segments as a way to set up his "hidden gun" and as a means to foreshadow where the story is going. His present seems disconnected from the past that he narrates throughout the rest of the novel. The final chapter concludes in the present, providing the puzzle-piece that strings together all the events and makes sense out of the backstory and their current workings searching for "phenomenons".


In 1999 Chuck's father, Fred Palahniuk, began dating an Idaho woman named Donna Fontaine. Fontaine had recently put her ex-husband Dale Shackleford in prison for sexual abuse. Shackleford had vowed to kill Fontaine as soon as he was released. After his release, Shackleford followed Fred Palahniuk and Fontaine home from a date to her apartment in Kendrick, Idaho. After shooting Fred Palahniuk in the abdomen and Fontaine in the back of the neck, Shackleford left them to die, though he allegedly returned to the scene multiple times to attempt to start a fire large enough to destroy the evidence.

After Shackleford's arrest Chuck Palahniuk was asked to be part of the decision as to whether Shackleford would receive the death sentence.[2] Palahniuk had worked in a hospital and as a crime reporter and struggled with his stance on capital punishment. Over the next few months he began working on Lullaby. According to him it was a way to cope with the decision he had to make regarding Shackleford's death. In the spring of 2001 Shackleford was found guilty for two counts of murder in the first degree. A month after Palahniuk finished Lullaby, Shackleford was sentenced to death.

Film adaptation Kickstarter campaign[edit]

On May 17, 2016, a Kickstarter campaign was launched aimed at adapting the novel Lullaby into a feature film.[3] The film will be directed by Andy Mingo, who previously directed the short film Romance, based on Palahniuk's short story of the same name originally published in Playboy Magazine. The adaptation is Palahniuk's first screenwriting endeavor, as he and Mingo have co-written the script together.

In popular culture[edit]

American punk rock band Lagwagon's song "Lullaby" was inspired by this novel. Almost every phrase from the lyrics can be found in the book.

British band The Bluetones's song "Culling Song" from the album A New Athens makes reference to the Culling Song from this book.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Page 9
  2. ^ "Fright club". The Guardian. May 2005. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
  3. ^ Leake, Josh. "Chuck Palahniuk's Lullaby". Kickstarter. Retrieved 30 August 2017.


External links[edit]