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The consequences of media saturation are the basis for an urban nightmare in Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk's darkly comic and often dazzling thriller. Assigned to write a series of feature articles investigating SIDS, troubled newspaper reporter Carl Streator begins to notice a pattern among the cases he encounters: each child was read the same poem prior to his or her death. His research and a tip from a necrophilic paramedic lead him to Helen Hoover Boyle, a real estate agent who sells "distressed" (demonized) homes, assured of their instant turnover. Boyle and Streator have both lost children to "crib death," and she confirms Streator's suspicions: the poem is an ancient lullaby or "culling song" that is lethal if spoken--or even thought--in a victim's direction. The misanthropic Streator, now armed with a deadly and uncontrollably catchy tune, goes on a minor killing spree until he recognizes his crimes and the song's devastating potential. Lullaby then turns into something of a road trip narrative, with Streator, Boyle, her empty-headed Wiccan secretary Mona, and Mona's vigilante boyfriend Oyster setting out across the U. S. to track down and destroy all copies of the poem. In his previous works, including the cult favorite Fight Club, Palahniuk has demonstrated a fondness for making statements about the condition of humanity, and he uses Lullaby like a blunt object to repeatedly overstate his generally dim view. Such dogmatic venom undermines the persuasiveness of his thesis about mass communication and free will, but thankfully, Palahniuk offers some respite here by allowing for sympathy and love, as well as through his razor-sharp humor, such as his mock listings for Helen's possessed properties: "six bedrooms, four baths, pine-paneled entryway, and blood running down the kitchen walls. .. ." At such moments, Lullaby casts a powerful spell. --Ross Doll