"Hero" isn't the right word, but its the first word that comes to mind.

I'm late- There's a problem with the train tickets so I have to get the bus to Glasgow, which takes forever. Eventually I find Borders Bookshop and walk in- it's eerily quiet. Where's Chuck Palahniuk, I ask. "Down the stairs" says the assistant and points. Thanks, I say.

Downstairs the place is packed. Chuck is somewhere in the distance beyond all the heads, giving a reading from Choke. I don't recognise the part of the book he's reading from. Wait, now I do- this is the infamous Simulated Rape scene I've heard so much about. As I listen to Chuck's voice, to the main character fumbling his way through it all, I can't help laughing out loud, and neither can the rest of the audience.

That Chuck knows how to make simulated rape funny.

After the reading the floor is opened for questions. During this, Chuck takes two opportunities to mention just how much he loves Nine Inch Nails. Standing there in my old NIN t-shirt, I can't help but smile.

The questions finish up and Chuck announces that he's arranged with the store that they'll stay open until everyone who wants a book or a DVD signed will get it signed. I join the lengthy queue and wait.

And wait.

Chuck isn't just signing books, he's talking to everyone. He gives each and every single person a good two minutes of his time. When it gets to my turn he shakes my hand and I give him my copy of Fight Club.

"Who's this to?"

Dave, I say. We chat for a bit, and I can't resist telling him about the group I go to. That every Friday night we find somewhere to go and we fight. That I've been doing this for coming on ten years. That the sense of connection and identification we all felt from seeing the movie and reading the book was unreal, almost spiritual.

Chuck can't help but be smiling all over his face. "I still do it you know" he says. "It's the feeling afterwards- when your body is completely drained..."

The sense of exhaustion, relaxation, of being completely at peace with the world, I say.

"Yeah! Yeah, that's exactly it!"

As we talk, we're both smiling and nodding, almost laughing; we're on exactly the same train of thought, we both understand exactly what the other is talking about.

I shake his hand.

Its been... really really great to meet you, I fumble, trying not to say "sir".

"You too Dave, take care!"

I melt.

When I get home, I take a look at the title page of the book.

      FIGHT CLUB

       Hey Dave--

           Deliver
        Yourself from
            Boredom!!
             ---------

           Chuck
             Palahniuk

Maybe "Hero" is the right word after all.

So first, you need to know that it's pronounced "Chuck Paula - Nick," and yes, the last name is an amalgamation of his grandparents' names, and as far as I can tell it's not a pen name. At least, he lists his parents as having the same last name on his official bio, and claims to be of French and Russian descent. This is, of course, the guy who made up Tyler Durden--perhaps all bets are off.

Next, you need to know that he did a lot of real-world research for Fight Club--he has sat in on support groups, he has been a blue collar worker. He was a mechanic who serviced diesel engines for Freightliner. He is a member of the Portland chapter of the national cacaphony society--a real-world Project Mayhem. And he knows how to make explosives with soap.

He was born in 1962 or thereabouts, and so several cultural milestones come to mind. He grew up with space monkeys in the news. He probably watched the first moon landing. And he was turning 18 just as MTV hit the airwaves. His angst-ridden early twenties were spent in the thick of 80's capitalist conspicuous consumption. Just as he was getting to the age where frequent and promiscuous sex was considered kosher, America found out about AIDS and HIV. Those of you his age already have his historical perspective; the rest of us can only imagine how it shaped him. If you've read his books, that part isn't hard.

First, he wrote Invisible Monsters. The publishers didn't want it, so he wrote Fight Club as a big "fuck you" to mass-media publishing. His editor loved it, and it was his first published novel. I am Jack's throbbing sense of irony. Next up was Survivor, released, unfortunately, with awful timing. The TV show gained the cultural currency for the name that his book deserved: it roasted religion, pop culture, sentimentality, and followers. The pages were numbered backwards; America, not wanting to be bothered with that icky frontal lobe thing, decided to sit in front of the boob tube instead. Invisible Monsters was published when critics finally recognized his writing for its easy style and thorough lack of respect for tradition for tradition's sake. Choke was published--sex addicts, support groups, the Heimlich Maneuver, and a colonial village of stoners--and snapped up by eager fans. Anyone who appreciates what he has done is waiting for Lullaby to come out. One of the drones I work with said "Fight Club was the worst movie I'd ever seen, right down there with The Usual Suspects." He'll probably just go watch Survivor.

You can count on his books to ring of pop culture because he grew up in it. Immune to advertising, and sick of it all the same, I imagine he sees himself as a character in a novel one of his friends is writing. Look at all of his books: the narrator is the main character, but the most interesting character is the spectator who turns that role around. While Chuck Palahniuk writes about Tyler Durden or Fertility Hollis, they reach back out of the page and change the narrator's character--they force life to happen! Because of this self-referential attitude, and because he refuses to take anything seriously, even in his own work, he's been labelled "postmodern." Because he is Tyler Durden in many ways, he's been subjected to the abuse of the sheep whom he abuses in print. And because he doesn't take them seriously, either, I'll keep reading his books.


addendum: I've read Lullaby now and enjoyed it, but he tried too hard to make it 'important'. Whenever he needed a way to say something was important, he simply repeated a line from the first two chapters on its own line.

I sit here today, very near the end of Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk. I'm dying. I don't want to finish it. That would mean the affair with this amazing writer is, for the time being, over. I can't bear to let him go.

"When I started writing, I said my goal was to bring people back to reading, people who had given up on reading. So I wrote for people who didn't read at that point. Today, you have to write books that can compete against video games and music videos and professional wrestling and all the other things people can do with their time. And those people want plot. People don't want stasis and description. They want the plot to move, they want lots of verbs. You know, verbs on top of verbs." Courtesy of Powells.com Interviews

Chuck is the first author to bring back my love of reading so hard and heavy that I'm standing in the grocery line giggling softly to myself. I'm in the bathtub, a wrinkled prune in now freezing water, not realizing that hours have passed.

Chuck Palahniuk, whose (somewhat literally) explosive first novel, Fight Club, struck more nerves with the nation's angry young men than a trip to a sociopathic dentist. ..Abercrombie and Fitch Interview August 14th, 2001 News

I went with my ex-husband and some friends to see Fight Club the night it was released. Then I bought it on DVD when it was out. I had no idea there was more from this ingenious man.

Then.....it happened. Someone handed me a copy of Survivor.

In went my nose and it's been stuck in his intriguing, insane and gripping world for the past 2 weeks. I finished Survivor and ran out and picked up Choke. Picked up Fight Club just to see how it went in the text only version. Then on to Invisible Monsters. I have fallen asleep with this every night. Awakened to find it greeting me every morning.

I am about to bid a very sad farewell to this beautiful intellectual orgy. I am broken hearted and I feel slighly lost. The sun will rise tomorrow and all I will have are the memories.

My will to go on is only aided by this excerpt I found while searching for more to feed my lust for Chuck's writing....

LULLABYE
Publisher: Doubleday

Release Date: September, 2002 (tentative)

What it's About: A newspaper reporter is investigating sudden infant death syndrome for a soft-news feature. After responding to several calls with paramedics, he notices that all the dead children were read the same poem from the same library book the night before they died. It's a "culling song -- an ancient African spell for euthanizing sick people or old people. Researching it, he meets a woman who killed her own child with it accidentally. He himself killed his own wife and child with the same poem, accidentally, twenty years earlier. Together, the man and the woman must find and destroy all copies of this book, and try not to kill every rude sonofabitch that gets in their way. It's a comedy/drama/tragedy. In that order."

More: September 2002 may be a long way to wait for Lullaby's release... but by then, Chuck says he'll already have two more horror novels written, as part of a trilogy he has planned.

Courtesy of chuckpalahniuk.net

I'm looking forward to more invigorating hours of mind fucking pleasure provided by this man. I also plan on seeing if he will be in my area for a book signing in the near future. In the meantime, I will try to drag out this last few pages I have left, although I think my will to put it down will be quite weak.

I see in my future a meeting...Twelve Step Program for Recovering Chuck Palahniuk Addicts....Or perhaps I don't want to be cured. Ever.

l a n g u a g e

Maybe this is a rant; maybe you should just go away, just read the books yourself. Maybe, I don't know. What I do know is I've got to start off by listing a few adjectives for you:

Now if these are the sort of words you look for in your literary discourse, if you find that you use these regularly, sincerely, and consider them both colorful and apt, you're strongly encouraged to find the door. Quickly. There are many reviews and essays concerning Chuck Palahniuk that are drenched in just this sort of language. I think you'll find them a little more your, uh, speed.

Chuck Palahniuk is a man who's trying to build something. Some identity, something, something on which to base the living that we all bother to do. Some way to understand why we, in America, achieved everything we were looking for (the house, the car, the success) but we're really not all that happy. People discuss the theme of tearing down, of destruction, in Palahniuk's work, ignoring his thesis that destruction is necessary in order to rebuild. He's a man who's dealing with the logical conclusion of Joseph Heller's Something Happened, the hollow suck of success, in a way that might just turn out to be productive.

People accuse Palahniuk of being just another pop culture icon, a disposable TV-generation blip, when he abandoned television years ago. People accuse Palahniuk of being a J.G. Ballard or Kurt Vonnegut clone when he's never read any Ballard, and has read just one book by Vonnegut.

Yes, he has a distinctive style. Yeah, you can echo his "I am Jack's raging bile duct" and his "Ripoff isn't the right word, but it's the first word that comes to mind." And yes, his words do come off like bar banter, lacking self-consciousness and pretense, running through varying plot lines like that story you just gotta tell the guys, leaving out all the boring parts, because you know you're competing for their attention with the girl up at the bar with the skirt and halter-top.

Yes, he's a good writer, he may even be an influential writer. You don't even have to agree with me here, just don't expect my eyes to glaze when you go to the machine gun post-modern vocabulary bag.

c h i l d h o o d

Chuck Palahnuik is an American writer of some consequence, who has, to date, penned six novels, two non-fiction books, numerous essays and short stories, and at least one (apparently poor, abortive) screenplay. His first published novel, Fight Club was adapted for the screen in 1999 (directed by David Fincher), and adaptations of his second and third are currently in the works. A contemporary of writers Bret Easton Ellis, Nick Hornby, and Irvine Welsh (to name a few), and compared to all three due to similarities in style, voice, theme, and subject matter (to differing degrees), Charles Michael Palahniuk was born on February 21, 1961 to parents Carol and Fred Palahniuk. The name Palahniuk (pronounced paul-ah-nik) originates from the combination of his grandparents (Paula and Nick) Seits' names, dating to their emigration from the Ukraine to the U.S. Due to the repeated separation (and later divorce) of his parents, Palahniuk (and his three siblings) grew up mainly in eastern Washington, where his grandparents kept a cattle ranch.1

a d u l t h o o d

Palahniuk attended the University of Oregon's School of Journalism in his early twenties, graduating in 1986. He's lived in Portland ever since. After college, he worked at Freightliner, a diesel truck manufacturer:

I worked at Freightliner for thirteen years right after college. I worked on the assembly line for several years. Then I moved into working as sort of a research mechanic, I would do repair and vehicle modification procedures and then write about them. So I worked on trucks and wrote about them.2

Dissatisfied with the work (and the pay as well: "we joked how liberal arts degrees should include welding skills," he says in his essay "Escort"3, "so you'd at least pick up the extra two bucks an hour our shop paid grunts who could weld."), Palahniuk took to volunteering at a hospice as an "escort," transporting and accompanying disabled and dying people to events and group support meetings. "I found myself sitting in group after group feeling really guilty about being the healthy person sitting there--'The Tourist'"4 This idea, "The Tourist," later became one of the themes of Fight Club, in which the narrator infiltrates support groups for various illnesses without being afflicted himself. Later, Palahnuik was asked by a patient to clear various sexual paraphanalia from his apartment so that his mother would not find it after he'd died. But he lost consciousness before giving Palahnuik the key. Palahnuik was forced to break into the apartment and collect the dildos, magazines, leather clothing, etc.: "I kept thinking I was going to get arrested with a garbage bag full of greasy sex toys . . . I was terrified."5 He quit being an escort not long after.

f i c t i o n

Palahnuik didn't begin to write fiction until he was thirty-two years old. Joining a writer's workshop in Portland, soon publishing short stories in magazines like Modern Short Stories, attempting his first novel (a 700-page mess called If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Already)6, then Invisible Monsters. Invisible Monsters, the story of a disfigured fashion model, was considered by a number of publishers, but eventually rejected because it was too "dark." Palahniuk's reaction to this was to write the angrier, darker Fight Club:

I had that Stephen King thing down and they still weren't publishing me . . . I mean I was writing those perfect sentences, and those perfect thriller plots. I had modeled my writing after successful writing, trying to copy successful writers so well. I thought I was following a pattern of success, when in fact my work was completely unremarkable because I following the pattern so closely. Rather than writing the stories that I would tell in real life, the stories that I loved, I was writing the stories that I thought would sell--more "marketable" stories--and they were getting shot down. Fight Club was written out of the frustration and anger of so much rejection. It was also written out of the freedom and resignation that I would never be published, so therefore I could write anything. If you have nothing to lose you can do anything, and that's what Fight Club is about. At that point I had nothing to lose.7

Fight Club came out of Palahniuk's experiences as a hospice escort, out of his experiences in fighting (not in clubs), and out of the realization he had after receiving a severe beating that if you're disfigured badly enough, the people around you will do their best to ignore it, to just look away. It was a reaction to all the "Oprah" books, all the books written for middle-aged women (his recipes for napalm and explosives were a reaction to the trend, as he saw it, of women placing recipes in the text of their books--and, before his publishers requested some minor changes, his recipes were quite accurate, having been worked out between himself and his brother over a three-day-period).

Fight Club was accepted almost immediately, and was published in 1996.

f a m e

Fight Club gained an immediate cult following, and once the paperback edition was in print, it began selling respectably. The Fincher film, though, elevated Palahnuik and his novel to such a level of notoriety that the world "cult" takes on a different meaning (as in his official website8, titled "The Cult"). Suddenly, Invisible Monsters (and another novel, Survivor), were no longer "too dark" to be published. Involving fight clubs (groups of men who meet to fight), pranks, vandalism, the destruction of one's body, the rejection of capitalism, the frustration of a generation of men raised by women, and, of course, the art of making soap, Fight Club tapped a strong cultural vein, actually (apparently) spawning some real-life fight clubs amongst fans. Although Palahniuk was a member of the Portland Cacophony Society, the basis for the novel's Project Mayhem (pranks and vandalism), Palahniuk denies any knowlege of fight clubs before the novel was written: "There's no secret society of clubs where guys bash each other and gripe about their empty lives, their hollow careers, their absent fathers. Fight clubs are make-believe. You can't go there. I made them up."9

Survivor, published in 1999, is a good novel that has been plagued by poor timing. The title Palahniuk had intended for this account of the final surviving member of a death cult who becomes a world-famous evangelist was "Unnatural Disasters." His publisher chose "Survivor," which also happened to be the title of the upcoming television series. The series became one of the most talked-about television shows of the period, overshadowing the novel and eliminating the sort of branding association that Fight Club had enjoyed. Also, the book was published just days before the "Hale-bop" mass suicide. This dulled the books humor a bit.

A reworked version of Invisible Monsters was also published in 1999. This novel is, in part, autobiographical (though it is narrated by a female model with no jaw), describing such exploits as touring expensive homes under the pretense of interest in buying them, only to search medicine cabinets for pills, which they would quickly swallow. This novel was an attempt at modeling a book on fashion magazines (which Palahnuik found himself leafing though, often, while waiting in laundromats). He considers it a failed experiment.

Choke, a novel which Palahnuik says is his best to date, was published in 2001, is about sex addicts. Palahniuk sat in on a number of sex addiction therapy sessions in preparation for writing the book. It also concerns a character who pretends to choke while eating in expensive restaurants, so that people can save his life. People, then, feel obligated to give him money.

d e a t h

At the point that the film version of Fight Club was about to explode, elevating him from "cult writer" to "the guy who wrote Fight Club," Palahniuk received news that his father had been killed:

Fred Palahniuk had answered the personal ad of a woman whose ex-husband had threatened to kill her and any man with her. Despite the apparent danger, Palahniuk's father began dating the woman. Less than two months later, the couple were gunned down, their bodies burned down to piles of bones. The ex-husband was eventually found guilty of the crime.10

f u t u r e

In 2002, Palahniuk published his fifth novel, Lullaby, his first attempt at horror. This novel is about a "culling song," an ancient lullaby that's used to euthanize sick and old people, about witches and death and frustration. And, of course, humor. Palahnuik says plans to write more in this vein, more in horror and black humor than in the themes of identity that pervaded his first four novels.

Film versions of Survivor and Invisible Monsters are in the works, and it is rumored that David Fincher is interested in directing a film version of Lullaby in the future.

s e l e c t e d   l i n k s

Fight Club and Everything2

Book of Very Common Prayer

Don't encourage people to read

Self Improvement is Masturbation

Everything I learned from "Survivor"

God won't take the time to sort your ashes from mine

When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat?

That Little Bitch Marla Singer: A Cultural Critique of Sexism in Fight Club

Until today, it really pissed me off that I'd become this totally centered Zen Master and nobody had noticed

b i b l i o g r a p h y


1: http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/9941/jenkins.php
2: http://www.dvdtalk.com/fightclub.html
3: http://www.chuckpalahniuk.net/essays/escort.htm
4: see 2.
5: http://www.wweek.com/html/cultfeature090199.html
6: http://www.chuckpalahniuk.net/author/media/poets&writers.htm
7: http://www.turtleneck.net/summer01/leathersatchel/palahniuk6.htm
8: http://www.chuckpalahniuk.net/
9: http://www.chuckpalahniuk.net/essays/latimes.htm
10: http://www.playboy.com/arts-entertainment/comversation/palahniuk/

I met Chuck Palahniuk at this past weekend's Bram Stoker Awards convention in sunny Burbank, CA. Palahniuk's phenomenal short story "Guts" was up for the short fiction award (surprisingly, it didn't win). The convention's organizers didn't expect Palahniuk to attend; they figured he'd be too big-name and literary and Hollywood to have any interest in such a small genre con (after all, Harlan Ellison made it clear he'd only show up long enough to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of Michael Moorcock, and then he was outta there).

Turns out, the organizers were wrong; Palahniuk seemed really pleased to be there, and looked like he got a huge kick out of the assortment of horror fans and California goths who attended his late-night reading and signing the following day. When he signed books, he also put one of two stamps in the books: one read "Haunted Tour 2005" and the other "Prison Library Copy".

As much as I admire his work, I dreaded meeting him. It's not uncommon for big-name novelists to be complete jerks; success leads to swollen, infected egos, and many authors begin to act as if dealing with fans and "lesser" writers is dreadfully beneath them. For instance, nobody's been able to identify who the murdered Guest of Honor portrayed in Sharyn McCrumb's novel Bimbos of the Death Sun is based on because there are so very many spoiled, nasty authors who fit that mold in real life.

My fears were unfounded; in person, Palahniuk is a very pleasant, gracious man. I sat across from him at the awards banquet; he preferred salmon over steak and has phenomenal table manners. With long hair, he looks a bit like a healthy version of Iggy Pop; with short hair, he bears a bit more resemblance to a thin Clive Owen. You might be tempted to apply the adjective "nice" to him, but "nice" just doesn't cut it considering the sheer intensity of his work.

Before he read "Guts", Palahniuk talked to us a bit about a writing workshop he'd belonged to as a beginning writer. The workshop's leader had a background in acting, and thought it very important that his students learn how to be good readers of their own work.

So, to toughen his students up, the workshop leader would arrange for them to do readings of their work in wildly inappropriate places. Instead of quiet libraries and bookstores, he'd sign them up (often with no advance notice) at loud, busy coffeeshops and sports bars.

"This would lead to situations where someone would be reading their touching story about their child's bout with cancer in some bar full of drunk guys who were watching the Patriots play on the big-screen TV. And these guys would just not give a shit about the person reading," Palahniuk said.

The experience led Palahniuk to start writing each story as if he was eventually going to have to read it aloud in a place where he'd have to compete with a blaring football game for attention.

"Guts" is just such a story, and Palahniuk is an excellent reader. It's hard to tear your attention away, even if the faint of heart might want to after Palahniuk reaches the horrifying meat of the story. He says that when he's read the story for the public before, some people fled; those who could not flee have doubled over with their heads between their knees, trying to not listen to a tale that's going to stick in their heads like an icepick.

The extremity of Palahniuk's fiction was also formed by his admiration of Shirley Jackson's work. When her short story "The Lottery" came out in The New Yorker, many readers were completely horrified by it and promptly cancelled their subscriptions with outraged letters of protest to the magazine.

"In this day and age, what kind of fiction would you have to write to get that kind of extreme reaction in readers? What kind of fiction has that power?" Palahniuk said to us. "And so that's the kind of fiction I've tried to write."

Palahniuk engaged in correspondence with one of Shirley Jackson's daughters, and one thing led to another (he said he couldn't go into exactly what), and in the end the daughter sent him part of Jackson's cremated remains.

Palahniuk still remembers the day he got the cremains in the mail. His then-roommate hovered nearby as Palahniuk opened the box to find a foil package inside.

"Don't you dare open that at the kitchen table!" his roommate exclaimed.

Palahniuk sent Jackson's ashes on to his publishing company, who has them under lock and key.

While Palahniuk the man is far too kind and gracious to do anything untoward at the dinner table, Palahniuk the author will mix the ashes right in with the mashed potatoes. And if you dare take a bite, you'll find it's really very tasty.

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