Book Review: “The Invention of Sound” by Chuck Palahniuk

“The Invention of Sound” by Chuck Palahniuk

c.2020, Grand Central $27.00 / $34.00 Canada 240 pages

The sound of a neighbor’s law mower at seven on a Saturday morning.

The screech your car door makes as it scuffs against the side of the garage. The smoke alarm’s dying batteries at 4 a.m. That song you hate on repeat-play. These things make you want to just scream but at least, in “The Invention of Sound” by Chuck Palahniuk, they won’t kill you.

Gates Foster would never stop looking for his daughter. And he’d never stop looking for men who would hurt little girls like his Lucinda, the kind of men he saw in dark corners of the web. Foster’s support group told him again and again to quit spinning, to hold a funeral for Lucinda, to give himself closure, but how could he do that? It would mean giving up hope that his daughter was merely missing, and not already dead.

And then he heard her scream.

Now making a living at Fan-Cons by selling her autograph to costumed nerds, Blush Gentry was, by most Hollywood standards, washed up. Once, she was a B-movie starlet, always in the role of a stereotypical beauty who denied any possibility of a slasher before being chased and dying in a predictably bloody scene. That was what she did. That was all she did. So how was she supposed to know who’d voiced the scream on one lousy film?

A Foley artist’s job is to create the sound effects that bring a movie to life and, though few people had ever heard of her, Mitzi Ives was one of the best. In a big-money race to find the perfect scream, the scream that would change the film industry, a scream that would slay audiences, Mitzi was a specialist and her talents didn’t come cheap. Neither did the wine or sedatives that brought out her best work.

But those things left Mitzi with only vague memories of knives and the smell of bleach. She couldn’t actually remember how the screams were made. She only knew they were, and she had a thousands and thousands of tapes as evidence…

Rip-roaringly lurid: should you expect anything less from a Chuck Palahniuk novel?

You shouldn’t. But you should know that what’s inside “The Invention of Sound” isn’t just gore for gore’s sake.

No, the excellent plot of this book is more subtle than that: the worst scenes, for instance, are alluded-to, rather than fully fleshed; imagined, not told – enough to let readers take the next step in their minds, to warily circle the concepts behind humanity’s worst actions, to sit with the dank thoughts that hide along the edges of a dirt-floor basement, to befriend the squirmy idea that what happens in Palahniuk’s stories is almost possible in real life.

So go ahead. Read this book and try to ignore the middle-of-the-night tap on your brain that “The Invention of Sound” will give you. It’s just a reminder that few other handfuls of dead tree hold this much terror. Indeed, if you love weird, creepy things, this book’ll make you holler.