What Happened To Chuck Palahniuk?
Chuck Palahniuk was once the king of Dark Satire. Some may still see him this way, but I'm sure they are a significantly less amount of people then they once were. Survivor was masterful; the first novel of his I read, it was eye opening for me. It made me realize just how fun reading could really be. Survivor was clever in a way that I had never previously experienced. I was hooked. Invisible Monster, Choke, Fight Club, Diary, and Lullaby! Absolutely page-turners.
Then came Rant, written in an Oral Biography style that bored me to tears with it's lack of both plot and interesting characters. Tell-All? The screenplay terms did not make up for the shallowness of pretty much everything in the novel. Then Pygmy, written in broken english. The drawbacks of this should be obvious; for starters, I didn't understand what the fuck was going on most of the time. This also may have had to do with the terribly annoying characters. Although, to the authors credit, the english-deficient narrator of Pygmy is the most different character he's ever created. Out of all the narrators he's written over the years, the one from Pygmy stands out the most...but not for a reason the author should be proud of.
All of Chuck Palahniuk's novels are written in the first-person perspective. Each narrator seemingly have the same personality, despite age or gender. I did not find this to be a problem with the early novels; the originality and smart plotting (among other traits) of the first six more then made up for this. I believe the crucial point of when he decided to change things up a bit was before Haunted. From that point on the experimentation with prose started, bringing about some of the most shallow fiction ever created.
When I first heard the premise of Damned I thought it might be the return of the Chuck P. I used to love so much. The idea of the main character overdosing on marijuana showed potential for great satire, and the setting of hell seemed a little out there at first, but is something that appeals to me. The thing that worried me was that it was going to be the first novel of his not set on Earth.
When Damned was announced, and before it was released, I came across a novel in Chapters called Hell, by an author named Robert Olen Butler. What caught my attention was the cover: a big red and sadistic looking face on a blank white background. I was immediately reminded of a Palahniuk book cover. And the premise of a character dying and living in hell made it an obvious buy, not just for the obvious Damned parallels. I didn't but it the first time I came across it on sale. It was later when Palahniuk annouced the plot of his next novel, Damned.
Hell is a satire of fame and celebrity told in the third-person. It's not the greatest novel; most of the characters are very shallow and selfish, but it is Hell they're living in ;) So it's not the best thing I'v ever read, but one I definitely recommend over Damned. If you're a big fan of earlier Palahniuk and less of his recent output, but liked the premise of Damned and was disappointed by the actual novel, then definitely read Hell by Robert Olen Butler. If a dark and witty satire set in hell excites you, then look no further. And remember: Go nowhere near Damned.
Let's go back to the earlier novels and what makes them different from the more recent ones. When Chuck was writing his first few novels he was relatively unknown as a writer. Often pointed out is how the early works have identity crisis as a major theme. This is very true. When he wrote them he was still a hungry writer trying to make a living at it. In his non-fiction collection Stranger Than Fiction he reveals some of the odd jobs he's had, and in doing so also reveals some of the inspirations for his fiction. I get the impression that before big literary success came his way, Chuck was dealing with possible inadequacy as a result of his lack of success as a writer, which one must assume has been his dream career for a long time.
Cut to the present day. Stadiums (well, maybe it's auditoriums) sold out full of fans from all walks of life, all in the name of cult author Chuck Palahniuk. He's huge. His fanbase is giant, especially with the younger crowds. Take a look at the guy, he knows he's famous; he dresses with hipster style and writes about celebrities. His life is very different now. Movie offers coming out his ass. Book deals like no one else gets; he publishes at least one novel per year.
On that note: he publishes at least one novel per year. When the Damned sequel was first announced, it was also announced that he had two other books ready to be released. Most writers, I believe, would find this very difficult to do. But for Chuck Palahniuk? If you're writing novels as shallow as Pygmy and Rant, it's not too hard. I can't imagine stories like these taking much time or effort to write. They definitely don't read like much.
At some point he started going for the gross out. Many point to Diary as being the point where he started this. This could be true in a sense, but Choke I believe is the point where he realized just how gratifying it can be to shock people with incredibly graphic prose. Lullaby is the novel where he started being branded (sometimes) as a horrorriter. It's not really horror, but maybe he liked the idea of being a satirical horror novelist. Lullaby, of course, was not the graphic novel his later stuff is. The short story Guts was huge, and ever since he's gone straight for the gross out. And in my opinion, going for the gross out isn't really horror. But obviously Chuck Palahniuk isn't really a horror writer.
But believe it or not, I do not hate Chuck Palahniuk. I just hate that he does not put the effort into it anymore. His last few novels have just been atrocious. It's a shame that the same writer has also written novels of such satirical genius. Such potential could be seen in his early work. What the fuck?
I have not gotten nearly as in-depth into my views on Chuck Palahniuk's writing as I would like to. Gradually I will write reviews on his books and upload them to The Nic Report, but only books that I have particularly strong opinions of, for both good and bad reasons. In the meantime I ask you to wonder aloud in public places your answers to the question: What happened to Chuck Palahniuk?