The book up to this point has had very weak hooks. There's been some stuff about the supernatural (haunted houses in the prologue, witch hunting in chapter 1, teasers of Carl's TRAGIC PAST TM in chapter 3) but this chapter I would say is where the real hook is. Four chapters in may seem like quite awhile to get there, but keep in mind that the end of chapter 4 is only page 26. So, without further ado, let's see what sort of ZANY HIJINKS Carl gets into this chapter!
...Getting interrogated by his boss, Duncan. Oh, okay. Back when Carl was talking about his ethics test and the inanity of "What color was the ornament FIND OUT OR GET FIRED WHAT DO?" I looked at it and thought it was stupid. Like, really, does that matter? Pick a color, and if someone says "NO THAT WAS WRONG" you can run a correction, fuck off. I'm like 35% sure newspapers are not run by Satan, Palahniuk. Apparently this is where Palahniuk decides 'nope, totes run by the devil' and we see Duncan interrogate Carl about things like the kind of sink (double or single? What kind of faucet? What kind of handles?), the make of the fridge, the calendar on the wall... all of which Carl spits out with ease because he's been doing a bang up job turning himself into a robot. The whole stomping tiny model homes is just him practicing for when he is a giant robot trying to destroy the Earth.
Now, here is where I'm unsure if Duncan is supposed to be an insufferable dolt who spits when he talks and expects the impossible (which is the feeling the text gives) or if he's seeing how much Carl remembered because holy crap he even looked into the sink to see what kind of food was dried on the plates and investigated which brand of tomato sauce was in the bin and the nutritional value of it. Duncan even says "Damn you're good", and while I think he wants all of his reporters to be this thorough, he knows that Carl's ability to do so is worthy of note, praise, and wouldn't you poke to see what bizarrely specific details he had stored away this time? The text, however, offers us little on Duncan other than that he dyes his hair and spits when he talks, so things like inflection and intention that could possibly be positive are lost to Carl (and therefore the reader) because that whole basically-dead-inside thing he's got going on these days.
So why do I think Duncan is actually not horrible and likes Carl? Well, one is that "Damn you're good", but he also put Carl on this story for slow news with the idea of it being award bait. He could have sent Carl to go report on cat shows and craft fairs and squirrels jet skiing, but instead he says "Okay, here's this thing that will actually drum up readership and maybe get you noticed". He is trying to put Carl in a position to do well, and paired with the previous comment, I think that is because Duncan has faith in Carl's abilities. He also then hands him a newspaper ad, which, when I first read, I got the in-story intent, but not what it was actually saying.
Attention Patrons of the Treeline Dining Club
The body copy says: "Have you contracted a treatment-resistant form of chronic fatigue syndrome after eating in this establishment? Has this food-borne virus left you unable to work and live a normal life? If so, please call the following number to be part of a class action lawsuit."
Then there's a phone number with a weird prefix, maybe a cellphone.Before I get into the ad its self, Duncan actually asks Carl if he thinks there's a story there. He doesn't say "Look into it", he says "Maybe this is worth your time. What do you think?" I'm just saying, Duncan may not do well in the dating department given his descriptors, but he sounds like a pretty decent boss.
Now back to the ad. This is the second time we see an ad like this--the last time was in chapter 1--but because I knew it would come back, I didn't mention it then, because I wasn't quite sure how I wanted to handle it. The short answer (and spoiler) is that these ads are placed by the fourth main member of the cast who we have not met yet: Oyster. For those of you paying a lot of attention and with incredible memories, you may remember that is the name of Mona's boyfriend. The deal with these ads is that it's a way Oyster makes money: he places these outlandish ads (the one in the first chapter was about spiders bursting out of new furniture) about high end businesses, and harvesting that sweet sweet "Shut the fuck up" money. I won't get any further into Oyster beyond what we get from this ad until we actually meet him, but there's a lot in this ad.
First being that chronic fatigue syndrome, unless my last round of food safety certification skipped bits, is not food-borne. Admittedly, it does have many causes, and you can get some pretty terrifying stuff from food (my last round of food safety certification went into great deal about a guy who got erectile dysfunction from it as well as dramatic sinister pictures of sandwiches--no, I'm not making this up) but the ad is made of Fox-News-worthy scare tactics. IT'S DANGEROUS AND IMPACTS UR LIFE OH NOES! but involves not actually really paying any attention to it to get even mildly freaked out because seriously you guys? Seriously? And that, in a nut-shell, is what Oyster thinks of the average person. That putting an ad like that out would actually damage a business rather than be laughed off as obviously fake. It says something about Palahniuk that these businesses don't just slap Oyster with a big old cease and desist, since this is slander, because it's easier to give him money (and potentially encourage repeats when he tells people about it?) rather than crush him with their terrifying lawyers. Palahniuk never tried very hard to hide his own biases in his writing though.
The rest of the chapter has less to pick over/apart. Carl going to see some more dead babies (and one dead child), and the book revels in giving us so many details of the homes, further establishing Carl's disconnect with humanity since we almost never see the parents of these dead children. We are introduced to Nash, one of the paramedics, who comments that with all these entirely clean deaths they could be working in Hollywood (and then follows up with some charmingly specific details about what bodies do when they die). The chapter ends with a bit of a cliffhanger as Carl finds out the common denominator! The thing that paramedics, doctors, and scientists have never ever been able to figure out about crib death! That they all were reading to their kids from the same library book, all opened to the same page! But Carl, being a super robot, and the perfect camera, sees and notices this.
Next chapter we get to see Helen, the supposed main character of the book, again. Until next Thursday!