An assorted group of the disaffected reply to a posted advertisement, agreeing to live isolated for three months, each limited to only one suitcase. They plan to spend their time writing stories, gradually refining their styles, hopefully creating some work worth saving. All this is to be accomplished within the walls of a concrete building closed off from the rest of the world. The character's names are descriptive and indicative of their personalities and/or histories: Miss Sneezy, the Earl of Slander, Reverend Godless, the Matchmaker, etc. They leave no trace, disappeared.
The participants liken this experience to that of the residents of the Villa Diodati, a summerhouse party in 1816, where a group of creative people were trapped by the rain in a house on Lake Geneva. To assuage their boredom, the residents told scary stories then wrote them - such masterpieces as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Dracula. The more modern, if not cynical, group labors under a similar pretension but fails to take into account their own shortcomings: "Victims of our own low threshold. Victims of ourselves."
Prefaced by a poem, each new story of the twenty-three is progressively scarier, more violent, building an aura of repression and confinement that quickly becomes claustrophobic. Setting up the scene of their own denouement, each member of the group destroys a Mylar package of food they hate, creating a serious nutrition shortage. Each day brings yet another act of self-destruction, cranking up the tension, adding drama to their faux Villa Diodati, but much, much darker.
A bizarre tale is relayed through these stories prefaced by poems, the chaos and carnage progressive, essentially building two plots: the dissolution of the group's social contracts and the unfolding horror of the individual stories. The result is a bit disjointed, albeit weirdly creative, Palahnuik's penchant for the macabre evident. This two-in-one tale might have been more successful as a short novel and a story collection, with less dissonance for the hapless reader, but the gore is way over the top, merely window-dressing for a flailing novel.
Hopefully this isn't the reader's first encounter, as it was mine. Halfway through, the novel disintegrates into a feast of gore for anyone left standing by the end. Reading Palahniuk is an experience, always edgy, but Haunted leaps right over the cliff, wallowing in complete cannibalistic decadence: "The best story we'd bring out of this building was just that we survived."