Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The First Rule About Chuck Palahniuk is You Do Not Talk About Chuck Palahniuk...

Just like movies these days good books are few and far between.  It doesn't help when bookshelves are flooded with subpar writing about inept wizards and sparkly vampires which is setting the bar so low for future writers who now believe that this lead is actually gold.  I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.  We all know that the written word -as we know it anyway- is dead, or at least dying a very painful death.  But on this downswing in literary history there are still a few deposits of genius left to be found.  Now Chuck Palahniuk first came on my radar way back in my university days after witnessing the cult movie Fight Club based on his novel of the same name.  The movie completely blew me away and quickly climbed the ranks to become my number two favourite movie of all time.  And shortly after I saw that movie... I did not read Palahniuk's book.  Maybe it was because the book is always (or at least 99% of the time (looking at you Lord of the Rings)) better than the movie and I didn't want my cinematic wet dream to end.  Or maybe I was too busy playing Rogue Squadron and SSX Tricky until three in the morning, or watching all nine hours of The Godfather trilogy consecutively, or getting drunk off of Smirnoff Ice or Mike's Hard Lemonade alone in my residence room.  Who the fuck knows?

The point is I kept putting off Palahniuk for some reason or another.  I kept hearing about his work from a couple friends of mine so finally this last Christmas I started asking for anything written by Chuck Palahniuk so I could see what the fuss was about.  I specifically mentioned Fight Club because I really wanted to see the original source matieral.  So of course I got Pygmy.  So shortly after New Year's eve way back in January I set to work reading my first Palahniuk.  And my god was I blown away.  It was like being asleep for a long time and then suddenly being woken up by a nuclear blast.  The book slapped me in the face then firmly wrapped its hands around my neck and wouldn't let me go.  It was some of the most outlandish, crazy shit I had ever read and I fucking loved it.  To me as an amateur-hoping-one-day-to-be-professional writer one mark of truly great writing is something that makes me jealous.  Jealous that I didn't think of that idea first, or put those words in that combination myself.  And damn I am jealous of Palahniuk's writing.

After Pygmy I didn't immediately jump right into more Palahniuk.  First off work kept me pretty busy, and secondly I've been on a huge video game kick this year.  (Thank you Left 4 Dead!)  Thirdly Palahniuk's work is so intense that you need some time to recover after reading it, just like a good workout, or a great lay, or major surgery.  Then last week I was over at my friend Bonegod's house where amidst his copious collections of graphic novels, and Jack Whyte there is a Chuck Palahniuk section so I asked him to borrow his copy of Haunted which I had recently seen at a bookstore but was too cheap to buy at the time.  (Sorry, Chuck, I'll make sure to actually spend my hard-earned cash next time.)  Fuck, what a ride.  I couldn't put it down.  It was so intense and fucked up and totally awesome.  If you haven't read Haunted it basically follows a bunch of strangers from much different backgroundsall pulled together for a three month writer's retreat and end up trapped and fighting for their survival.  Amidst the craziness they all start telling their own stories, 23 in all if I remember correctly.  So it's a compilation of these stories, some poetry all framed in the larger narrative of the trapped would-be writers.  I don't want to say any more lest I ruin the purity of reading it fresh for the first time, but definitely get ready to be shocked.  One of the benefits of being from my generation with all the movies and video games is that I'm so desensitized to violence and other twisted shit that I have built up an almost inhuman tolerance to it, but there were some passages in this book I had to read three or four times to fully comprehend them and others that actually caused me physical discomfort. 

Usually it takes me some time to get through a novel, not because I'm not a fast reader, but because when I'm reading for pleasure (Boo-yah!) I like to take my time and digest every line of what I'm reading.  Usually a book this long would take at least three weeks but I think I got through Haunted in five days.  It was so diabolically brilliant I couldn't put it down.  The thing is that through all the craziness Palahniuk is dealing with some pretty deep issues, bringing a funhouse mirror to reflect our postmodern bullshit society, exaggerating certain elements to the point of satire.  At the forefront is our media-consciousness and our media-whoreishness in which every tragedy becomes a movie of the week.  Then there are larger concerns like how and why humanity is so hellbent on causing itself so much pain and suffering and how we construct the narratives of our lives, assigning people certain roles to create something more compelling and more easily digested by the mass media.  His little microcosm of the writer's retreat really causes you to examine how humanity fucks itself in the ass.  Bad guys are the new good guys.  He also shines his own unique light on morality making us think about the nature of right and wrong and the themes of death and violence are expertly woven throughout the work as well.  Pretty deep shit.

If you haven't already definitely pick up one of Palahniuk's books immediately and read it cover to cover as fast as you can.  After reading Haunted in particular I could feel my world view shifting ever so slightly and his theory on the meaning of life here on earth is the most plausible I have ever heard and even presented in such a dark and twisted way the most hopeful.  It is this mix of sure-fire, gothic cynicism mixed with a dash of reserved hope that there is indeed a "reason" for everything that happens to us that makes his work so compelling.  I think we could all use a little Chuck Palahniuk inside of us.  Take that how you will. 


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