Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction, Chuck Palahniuk. New York: Doubleday, 2004. Hardcover $23.95. ISBN: 0-385-50448-9

In his second nonfiction collection, Palahniuk delivers twenty three seemingly incongruent essays on topics as diverse as a combine demolition derby, the strange trend of castle building in America, and the death of his own father. There are many similarities to his previous collection, Fugitives and Refugees, which acts as a sort of travel guide to Portland broken up with personal essays in the forms of 'postcards,' from various times in his life in Portland. In both books, Palahniuk reveals brief portraits of the man behind the Club, giving the die hard fans choice bits of background info on the origins of some of the more memorable moments in his novels. But more than this, Palahniuk reveals himself as strangely (and inspiringly) detached from the hype. In "Almost California," he delivers a hilarious send up of Hollywood, triggered by a mishap while shaving his head the day before meeting with the studio about Fight Club. "Tomorrow, I was going to Hollywood. That night, I couldn't get my head to stop bleeding. Little bits of toilet paper were stuck all over my swelled-up scalp." His head becomes infected and scabby and "...would just bleed and bleed," he writes. "Whoever was lowest in the pecking order, I had to ride in their car."

These essays are loosely tied together by their strangeness, their honesty, and Palaniuk's dark humor. He interviews actress Juliette Lewis, writes of his profound respect for the writings of Amy Hempel, Mark Richard, and Palahniuk's experiences studying them in Tom Spanbauer's workshop. He meditates on the future of writing, the spurt in self-publishing and how this could positively affect the lives of writers. "What's going out is the cathartic transgressive novel," he says. and admits to his own dabblings in steroids. One of the funnier essays, and there are many, is "The Lip Enhancement," in which he wants so badly to have full, pouty lips (like Brad Pitt) that he uses a device to suck his lips into a fuller shape, finally realizing that this will only last for a few hours. "The whole evening would then be a race to get naked and accomplish some lovin' before your parts snapped back to their original size." These systems are for more than lips, he discovers. "I was visitor number 921 to the Lip Enhancer website. I was visitor number 500,000 to any of the penis enlargement sites." He defends his preoccupation thusly: "These are systems you can buy, and use, and write funny silly essays about and therefore tax-deduct; needless to say, several of these systems are now in the mail to me."

These essays are “funny silly” essays at times, and profoundly revealing at other times. Sneaking into the market just before the release of Palahniuk’s newest novel Haunted, many fans may miss sight of these essays completely, and that’s a shame. They are well worth reading, whether one is a fan of Palahniuk’s work or just curious the voice in Tyler Durden’s head.

-Originally published in Ghoti Magazine

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