Ever since Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk's dark comedies have wandered further from the recognizable world and deeper into an obscure fantasyland. In Invisible Monsters and his last book, Choke, that burgeoning surreality sometimes made it difficult to buy the story or empathize with the characters. Palahniuk's new Lullaby continues the trend, but with far more approachable and appreciable results. Lullaby begins its story near the ending and jumps back and forth in time; it's almost possible to begin anywhere and read the book as a Möbius strip. As if to complete that metaphor, it's suitably twisted throughout. The "lullaby" of the title is a magical spell, an African "culling song" traditionally sung to induce painless, instant death in the weak, diseased, or wounded members of a suffering tribe. As the book kicks into the high gear it then maintains throughout, bereaved journalist Carl Streator discovers, while researching sudden infant death syndrome, that all the local SIDS victims died shortly after a parent read them the African lullaby from a small-press book of myths and fables. He sets out to destroy all copies of the book, but in the process, he discovers that he's internalized the culling song, and can kill with a thought. Along the way, he runs into another culling-song aficionado, a brittle, jewelry-studded realtor who makes a living by selling haunted houses, then promptly re-selling them when the new owners flee in terror. Before long, Carl is continuing his quest with the realtor, her Wiccan hippie secretary Mona, and Mona's ecoterrorist-wannabe boyfriend Oyster, who harangues them all constantly with tales of environmental horror, and clearly craves the power of the culling song for himself. Oyster is so insufferable that it's impossible to understand why Carl doesn't "accidentally" kill him as he does so many others, and that's just one of the many implausible aspects of the group's cross-country expedition. But this time around, Palahniuk pulls off the mixture of humor, horror, comedy, and creepiness, spinning his usual shaggy-dog story into a rewarding and coherent fable. Palahniuk's writing style has matured; it's not as raw as it was in Fight Club, which may disappoint some of his fans, but it's also not as chaotic and choppy as it's been in the books since. He's started to write in paragraphs instead of catchphrases, and sentences instead of punch lines, and the result is a book that flows as smoothly as the putative lullaby of its title. Palahniuk's theoretical description of a culling-song-shaped future society—in which any and all noise is anathema—contains some of the most evocative writing he's ever done. For the first time since Fight Club, he's not only telling a highly entertaining story, but also shaping a riveting world where the incipient breakdown of society is equal parts insurmountable horror and blessed relief.