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Rant: Chuck Palahniuk’s Latest Makes Me Do Exactly That

October 22, 2009

A few weeks ago I swore that I would never read another Chuck Palahniuk book again. Then a friend insisted I give him just one more try with Rank: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey. It was the unique setup that got me: instead of a narrative he creates the story by compiling snippets of testimonies from the main characters’ family and friends recalling his life story after his death. Well, once again I was duped by that wily Palahniuk. Halfway through I couldn’t take it anymore, and that’s what compelled me to write.

Here’s the deal: do not read more than two of Chuck Palahniuk’s books. Palahniuk (of Fight Club fame) used to be one of my favorite authors. I loved his bizzareo plots, dark humor and characters that made me feel as dry as white bread. I loved his books for being unique and his page-turning tactics of trying to out-sick himself with each new description. Each story I read was torn through in two days.

There was Lullaby, my introduction, about a book that accidentally published a culling song (an African lullaby meant to give a painless death to the old or sick) which was causing the deaths of dozens of babies across the country. A few weeks later I bought Invisible Monsters, which had a roster of models and drag queens as the main characters that pleased me to no end.Then there was Diary, which plunged even more than usual into the fantastical and started my questioning of my love for his craziness.

My excitement for Palahniuk had faded, but when the movie version of Choke came out a few months ago and my roommate bought the book I decided it was worth reading, especially after watching and hearing her reactions as she ripped through it across the room. Well, I took the book, read it in one night, and when I was done threw it in a rage across the room screaming “I’m so done with him! I am SO done!”

See, if Choke had been my first or second Palahniuk book, I would’ve enjoyed it immensely. But, after reading enough of his books I realized that even though they may not be in tune with the majority of what’s on the bookshelves, that does not make them any less formulaic. He creates a band of extremely fucked up, despicable characters who hate themselves even more so than they hate everyone around them, places them in a ridiculous yet still potentially plausible scenario that illuminates the grotesqueness of human nature and then, in the last quarter of the book, introduces a completely out-of-the-blue element of fantasy that always elicits an audible “what the hell?” reaction from the reader that keeps you turning the pages just to figure out indeed what the hell is going on until you reach the last page, completely unsatisfied and confused but tricked into being entertained by such a crazy story.

Reading Palahniuk is kind of like reading an erotic novel, where you flip past all the “novel” pages just to get to the sex scenes. And maybe the first few sex scenes are pretty titillating but after the first three or so you’re left unimpressed. Only with Palahniuk you’re racing through it to see what crazy, disgusting or perveted thing he’ll come up with next and it’s exciting at first but then you realize it’s just shock for shock’s sake and really doesn’t have any other goods to back it up.

By all means, try Palahnkiuk out, especially if you’ve grown tired of all that normal storytelling out there. But do yourself a favor and quit while you’re ahead (I’d suggest Fight Club and Lullaby) or else you’ll likely find yourself restraining yourself from tearing out the pages of a book borrowed from a friend.

Originally written December 29, 2008

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