STRANGER THAN FICTION (Chuck Palahniuk)
Is one permitted to write a less-than-obsequious review of a chuckpalahniukbook? Because chuckpalahniukbooks make so much money, to say something unflattering about them is seen as a sin against consumerism and capitalism, an offence as grave as blasphemy. We must conform, it is suggested, and worship chuckpalahniuk as a god.
If chuckpalahniukbooks have gained a huge audience among unintelligent teenagers, that is precisely because chuckpalahniuk writes on the level of an unintelligent teenager.
Nonetheless, his book of “essays,” the tritely titled Stranger than Fiction, risks alienating his Hitler-Jugend-sized fan base.
The clichés begin with the title and get worse from there. Stranger than Fiction is essentially a haphazard collection of hastily written notes. Some of them concern chuckpalahniuk’s fame and the good things about it. Others concern celebrities chuckpalahniuk knows personally and who know him (it?).
chuckpalahniuk celebrates himself (itself?) with all of the enthusiasm of an out-of-work D-list actor. He tells us that he “SO writes” in order to meet people who look like Uma Thurman and J.F.K., Jr.: “This is SO why I write.” How noble! Unfortunately or fortunately, Uma Thurman, who would not consider herself a writer, is infinitely more eloquent and thoughtful than the writer chuckpalahniuk.
There are “essays” on Marilyn Manson and Juliette Lewis that contain nothing but quotations from Marilyn Manson and Juliette Lewis.
In the “essay” “Brinksmanship,” chuckpalahniuk laughs at his readers, telling them that what he is writing is “rushed and desperate.” But, he also seems to say, “You’ll read it anyway. After all, I’m a big name now.” In other words, the writer spits out garbage on the page, and we have to spend our valuable time reading his drivel, while he laughs and laughs and laughs…
There is an entire “essay” on Brad Pitt and his super-gorgeous lips. Oh, no, don’t be fooled, Gentle Reader! chuckpalahniuk assures us that this isn’t mere tabloid celebrity gossip. No. Don’t be deceived. As chuckpalahniuk remarks, “This wasn’t really about Brad Pitt. It’s about everybody.” Really? You don’t say!
When chuckpalahniuk makes cursory references to serious writers (i.e. those who are not merely celebrities), such as Heidegger, Venturi, or Derrida, it seems unlikely that he spent more than fifteen minutes reading them.
The prose is not simple; it is simplistic. Minimalism is a powerful literary device, but this is not minimalism. It is infantilism. Minimalism only seems simple; there is profundity in its pregnant cadences and silences. There is no depth beneath this book’s middle-school-level prose.
I am not exaggerating when I say that chuckpalahniuk writes like a subnormal, unintelligent teenager. Here is what he writes in his correspondence with Ira Levin (whose Rosemary’s Baby he pilfered in Diary): “That’s very, very creepy, Mr. Levin!”
chuckpalahniuk seems to believe that his life is interesting and that we will find his life interesting, as well. A writer’s life, however, is not a source of significance. Language and the imagination are the sole springs of literary value.
Witheringly boring, agonizingly self-glamorizing, and virtually unreadable — unless you are Mick, Chick, or Chimp, of course.
Dr. Joseph Suglia