when did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat? - - - - -

The future ended in 1962 at the Seattle World's Fair. This was everything we should have inherited: the whole man on the moon within the decade—asbestos is our miracle friend—nuclear-powered and fossil-fueled world of the Space Age where you could go up to visit the Jetsons' flying saucer apartment building and then ride the monorail downtown for fun pillbox-hat fashions at the Bon Marché.

Let's call this intervention, this novel, this satire, by this guy called Chuck Palahniuk. This whole project too, these four books he's written so far—they all really serve as a long, forced look at what it is we've become. And what we've become is tired and indignant, with very few goals that make any sense at all, and no idea how it ever got to be that way.

The problem with this world, our world, our American world, Palahniuk seems to be saying, is we've become too safe. Too closed. Too afraid. We forget too easily that the basis of most of what we learn is our mistakes. We amble through life in a world of child-proofed medicine cabinets and 3.2 beer, and we wonder why the word "apathy" seems a much more appropriate handle for our last few generations than the one we thought we'd always own: "pioneer."

there isn't any real you in you. - - - - -

Invisible Monsters is about the disfigured, transsexual, gay, ugly, or otherwise unpresentable "monsters" in this society, the outcasts and mutants who have made mistakes and are glad of it. It's also about the artificial life, the pristine correctness of beauty and the nuclear family, fashion, real estate, prescription drugs, and television commercials. It shares with Palahniuk's other novels the theme of self-destruction, of hitting bottom, and of rebuilding on top of whatever's left.

"Now," those Plumbago lips say, "You are going to tell me your story like you just did. Write it all down. Tell that story over and over. Tell me your sad-assed story all night. . . ."
  "When you understand," Brandy says, "that what you're telling is just a story. It isn't happening anymore. When you realize the story you're telling is just words, when you can just crumple it up and throw your past in the trashcan," Brandy says, "then we'll figure out who you're going to be."

Shannon Macfarland is a model with only half a face. Well, she was a model, but losing half her face was what those in professional sports-casting might call a "career-ending injury." She hates her best friend, resents her dead gay brother and her formerly-homophobic parents (who have become militaristic PFLAG members in his absence), and is in love with a detective who she realizes is, at the very least, bisexual. She finds that people ignore her, that she's become basically invisible because she doesn't fit into their comforting view of the world. She can, if she wants to, walk into a grocery store, take a large, frozen turkey, and walk back out without anyone trying to stop her. She can walk for hours without anyone making eye contact. What she can't do is convince her doctors, or anyone else, to show her the police photos taken of her just following her accident. All she really wants, she says, is for someone to ask her what happened to her face.

it's just the biggest mistake I could think to make. - - - - -

Then she meets Brandy Alexander, the "Queen Supreme" (just one short surgery away from being fully female), and blah blah road trip blah blah life affirmation blah blah... Or that's what it could have been, considering the plot. But it isn't structured that way, not at all. "Don't expect this to be the kind of story that goes: and then, and then, and then. What happens here will have more of that fashion magazine feel, a Vogue or a Glamour magazine chaos with page numbers on every second or fifth or third page." It's filled with paragraphs and sections starting with the words "Jump to," with flashbacks and flash-forwards in a sort of confusing-yet-rational way reminiscent of a book like Catch-22. This is a good deal less, well, unorthodox than his original intent, which Palahniuk describes in an interview for turtleneck.net:

I wanted to do a linear novel, but to break it up, so that it would say to jump from chapter one to chapter seventeen, to chapter thirteen, and you would physically have to jump back and forth throughout the book. It's been done before. Hopscotch. But what I really wanted to do was to write a half-dozen incredibly exciting, linguistically bizarre and beautiful chapters that the plot would never pass through. As you physically had to leap through the book to find the plot, you would pass through scenes: Brandy on a submarine, Brandy on the Titanic, or whatever. Just some outrageous scenes that you would assume that eventually the plot would pass through, but by the time you got to the end of the book you'd realize, 'You know, I never did see that Brandy on Mars chapter. Did I miss something?' It would be like those fashion magazines - no matter how many times you read that fat magazine, every once in a while it will fall open to something that you never saw, and you'll realize that this chaotic, beautiful thing is ultimately unknowable, like a person.

we are all self-composting. - - - - -

When a friend of his suggested that all that paging-through was just too much, Palahniuk relented and ordered the novel more-or-less chronologically. He now regrets that move. "I pulled up short. I shouldn't have," he says.

Invisible Monsters was the first novel Chuck Palahniuk wrote that he felt was fit to be published. He submitted the novel, and publishers enjoyed it, he was told, but it was "too dark" to be printed. His response was to write the darker, angrier Fight Club (as a "fuck you" to the publishers, as the story goes) which they, then, accepted almost immediately. And after the success of the film adaptation of Fight Club, Monsters was accepted by his publishers.

Palahniuk now sees the novel as, in part, a failure. It does not, he thinks, go far enough in the direction he'd wished to push it. He might be right: maybe it could have been improved upon, maybe it would have been a little better were it more confrontational and sensational. I don't know. As it is now, his writing is crisp, stacatto, and very pointed. It breaks taboos (for example, discussing rimming, fisting, and felching at the Christmas dinner table) and yet contains ideas more memorable than its more extreme scenes. Invisible Monsters is, by a good margin, the best novel written by this man, who may just be the most interesting young writer in America.

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk
287 pages, Copyright © 1999 by Chuck Palahniuk
W. W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 0-393-31929-6 (paperback)