Fifty Shades of Error: Chuck Palahniuk’s BEAUTIFUL YOU / Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer

Fifty Shades of Error: chuckpalahniuk’s BEAUTIFUL YOU
by Dr. Joseph Suglia

1.) “Even as Penny was attacked, the judge merely stared” [1].  Never begin a novel with a sentence written in the passive voice.  This sentence, in particular, sounds as if it were transliterated from Estonian or spoken by Grimace.  It contains a clumsy adverb (“merely”).  It is fatiguing to read.

2.) “The court reporter continued to dutifully keyboard, transcribing Penny’s words” [1].  Careful novelists avoid verbs such as “to continue,” “to start,” “to try,” “to remain,” and “to begin.”  Such verbs weaken sentences.

3.) “It would’ve been different if there had been other women in the courtroom, but there were none” [1].  “None” is a singular indefinite pronoun; therefore, the second independent clause should read: “there was none.”

4.) “The public sphere was devoid of women” [1].  If I wrote this sentence, I would die inside.

5.) “Otherwise, only Penny moved” [1].  Otherwise, what?  chuckpalahniuk means: “Only Penny moved.”

6.) “Their professional faces slipped for a moment and became delighted smiles” [3].  To which profession do the faces belong?  How could a face “become” a “delighted smile”?

7.) “The first one pointed a finger at Penny, bound and helpless, watched by every masculine eye” [3].  What makes an eye “masculine,” precisely?  chuckpalahniuk confuses gender with sex.

8.) “The pair of men lifted the gurney to waist height” [4].  The word “height” is superfluous.

9.) “Her world had been perfect, more or less” [4].  “Perfection” is an absolute concept.  There are no degrees of perfection.  Something is either perfect, or it is not.

10.) “With apologies to Simone de Beauvoir, Penny didn’t want to be a third-wave anything” [5].  Simone de Beauvoir did not live to read or hear the term “third-wave feminism,” nor did she invent the terms “first-wave” or “second-wave feminism,” nor did she even identify herself as a “first-wave” or “second-wave feminist.”

11.) “Open bottles of Evian had been left behind so quickly that they still fizzed” [12].  Evian is mineral water, not effervescent, aerated, “sparkling” water.  Therefore, Evian water does not “fizz.”

12.) “Dire as this situation seemed, Penny remained a lucky girl” [28].  It is never a good idea to use the verb “to remain” in a novel (cf. Number Two).  Avoid words that are too often coupled, such as “dire” and “situation,” “copious” and “notes,” “heated” and “debate,” “stark” and “contrast,” “devastating” and “loss,” “firm” and “believer,” “pregnant” and “pause,” etc.  A few days after this book was published, I went to Google and typed “dire situation” in the search window, and 1,700,000 results virtualized.

13.) “She knew she sounded pathetic” [33].  “Pathetic” is derived from the Greek pathos, which means “suffering.”  Here, it is used in the stale colloquial sense: “She knew she sounded like a loser.”  Generally speaking, novelists should write familiar things in an unfamiliar way, not familiar things in a familiar way.

14.) “Even to her own ears she sounded crazy ambitious” [33].  That ought to read “crazily,” of course, but who cares?  No one cares about writing these days.  Writing has nothing to do with writing.

15.) “The night air was warm, but Penny felt a chill down her spine, exposed by the plunging back of her Vera Wang gown” [43].  “To feel a chill down one’s spine” is, of course, a fossilized expression.  In 2014, if you typed “chill down spine” into Google, 3,830,000 results appeared.  The chuckies will claim, in advance, that every platitude is intentionally platitudinous.  But an intentional platitude is still a platitude.

16.) “The crowd was visibly disappointed as the film star turned away” [44].  “Visibly disappointed” is yet another dreary cliché.  In 2014, it registered 2,020,000 results on Google.

17.) “Like a doctor or a scientist, his fingertips gripped her as if he was testing her blood pressure” [45].  What kind of scientist would test a woman’s blood pressure?  Why are there two similes that mean exactly the same thing in one sentence?  And that should read: “as if he were.”

18.) “He poured in a smidgen more champagne and set the bottle aside” [46].  The word “smidgen” is properly used to describe solid objects, not liquid.  Have you ever heard someone ask for a smidgen of milk?

19.) “Under his gaze, Penny felt less like a woman than like a science experiment.  A guinea pig or a laboratory rat” [48].  I’ve never heard that one before.

20.) “Penny giggled, limp as a rag doll” [49].  Strong writers rescramble and defamiliarize clichés.  Weak writers, such as chuckpalahniuk, repeat them brainlessly.

21.) “A torrent of animal gibberish and profanities threatened to boil out of her mouth, and the digital recorder was running” [51].  “Profanity” is a non-count noun, if one is above the age of five.

22.) “The packaging would be pink, but not obnoxiously” [62].  That ought to read: “not obnoxiously pink,” “not obnoxious,” or “not obnoxiously so.”  And “obnoxious,” etymologically, means “exposing to danger,” not “irritating” or “annoying.”

23.) “She slept like a baby” [62].  A cliché is dead language, and this sentence is lifeless.

24.) “Savoring her reaction, the gloating genius waved to flag a waiter” [67].  “Savoring her reaction” is a cliché, “gloating genius” is a clunker, and “waved to flag” is a tautology.

25.) “It didn’t help that people expected her to be ecstatic.  No one wanted to hear the problems of a disappointed Cinderella; she was supposed to live happily ever after” [70].  “Ecstatic” does not mean “happy”; it means “outside-of-oneself.”

26.) “He only wanted to test his tantric thingamajigs on her” [70].  When words fail chuckpalahniuk, and they always do, he spews garbled baby talk.  On the next page, chuckpalahniuk uses the clever term “doohickey.”

27.) “Penny wanted to believe that making love was more than just fiddling with nerve endings until harum-scarum chemicals squirted around limbic systems” [73].  chuckpalahniuk really shows his age here: “harum-scarum.”  Even his slang is out of date.  If he keeps using superannuated slang, mentally defective fourteen-year-old boys will no longer read him (or his books).

28.) “Penny tried to steer the conversation” [74].  In 2014, “steer the conversation” resulted in 8,080,000 hits on Google.  Into what or toward what did Penny try to steer the conversation?  Does chuckpalahniuk even care?

29.) “A voice near the back of the crowd called out, ‘Will it work on eggplants?'” [80].  “Near the back of the crowd” is hideously awkward, and experienced speakers and writers of English know that “eggplant” is a non-count noun.

30.) “To cut her from the pack of other mothers, he complimented her appearance” [83].  “Complimented her appearance” is a clanging bromide.  To conjoin “cut” and “pack” is the to mix metaphors.  And isn’t this a bit too much telling and not enough showing?

31.) “Despite his icy demeanor she sensed Max’s little-boy heart was breaking” [91].  How many times in one’s life must one hear and read the phrase “icy demeanor”?  There was a time when writers were admired by readers for writing sentences that readers could not write themselves.  The chuckies admire the Ignoble Barnyard Yokel of Barnes and Noble for writing sentences that they COULD write themselves.  Any talentless, increative imbecile could write a sentence such as the one that I cited above.

32.) “Penny followed his gaze to a girl cooling her heels on the sidewalk, her arms folded across her chest” [100].  In the year in which this book was published, “to cool one’s heels” appeared 4,730,000 times on Google.

33.) “The majority of her coworkers listened, spellbound” [133].  “The majority of” enfeebles the sentence.  And “spellbound”!  A few pages earlier, someone is described as “dumbfounded.”  One comes to a work of literature to escape from verbal garbage, not to submerge oneself in it.

34.) “Weighing her words carefully, the Nebraska housewife said, ‘I bought you some of those Beautiful You doohickeys'” [137].  And if chuckpalahniuk had weighed his words carefully, he would have known that “to weigh one’s words carefully” is a brain-deadening cliché.

35.) “The stench was appalling” [138].  A talented writer knows how to conjure the stench of something, of anything, without flatly describing that stench as “appalling.”

36.) “The foolish lecher was already discarding his overcoat, his shirt, his pants” [141].  Genuine literary artists eschew evaluative remarks (“foolish lecher”) and let the reader do the interpreting.

37.) “Voices shouted in the hallway outside” [196].  Not inside, then?

38.) “In the stance of a sumo wrestler, she lackadaisically stroked herself with a short, knurled length of what looked like damp wood” [217].  “Lackadaisically” kills the sentence.  And that should read: “the short, knurled length,” if one insists on putting the words “short,” “knurled,” and “length” together.

39.) “Leaving the fireside, she waddled across the cave’s littered floor in search of something” [217-218].  “Littered” with what?  As a stand-alone adjective, “littered” is fatuous.

40.) “Making quick work, she prompted the nanobots in her brain and bloodstream to create the overwhelming pleasure of Tom Berenger and Richard Thomas kissing her wetly on the lips and breasts” [218].  “Making quick work” of what?  To write, “making quick work” without specifying an object is idiotic.  The novel takes place a few years in the future (circa 2018), and the “she” was born sometime in the 1990s.  Why would a twenty-something American woman lust after superannuated actors such as Tom Berenger and Richard Thomas?

41.) Or Ron Howard?

42.) We are living in a culture in which there are more writers than there are readers.

43.) We are living in a culture in which even the slightest sign of intelligence is enough to throw a crowd into a rage, is enough to mobilize a mob.  In such a culture, bacteria grow.

44.) Beautiful You resembles an ill-drawn cartoon.

45.) chuckpalahniuk and his drooling, foolish followers have murdered literature.

46.) Literature is dead.

47.) chuckpalahniuk is the least intelligent writer in America.

48.) He is a writer who does not know how to write who writes books for readers who do not know how to read.

49.) He is a contemptible, vile, low writer who pollutes bookstores, libraries, and bookshelves with his nauseating idiocy.

50.) Beautiful You is the twittering of a dimwitted twit.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer / RANT by “Chuck” Palahniuk

RANT (“Chuck” Palahniuk) by Joseph Suglia

Even “Chuck” Palahniuk’s most devoted followers will have a hard time getting through Rant (2007), a book about thrill-seeking that is devoid of a single thrill.  As insipid as they are, at least Palahniuk’s other books are EZ-2-Read.  Rant, however, is not merely stupid–it is also deadeningly, mind-numbingly tedious.  While trudging through its pages, the essence of boredom was revealed to me.

RANT is compacted of endlessly babbling voices.  Each voice narrates a piece of Buster Casey’s life, a Typhoid Mary who has spread rabies across the United States.  But there is nothing new to be learned about Casey after the sixth page (Pages One through Six are titled, imaginatively, “An Introduction”) and what we do know is never vividly or convincingly described.  To be absolutely explicit: The plot doesn’t move.  It stagnates.  There is no progression.  No motor drives the narrative.  Nothing is narrated between Pages Seven through 319 that hasn’t been narrated in the first six pages.

Anything that seems to be remotely original comes from somewhere else.  The book’s epigraph was pilfered from Atom Egoyan’s Exotica (1994), the oral-biographical structure was pillaged from Stephen King (Carrie), the “Party Crashers” narrative was fobbed wholesale from J.G. Ballard’s Crash, a narrative that dominates the book to such an extent that it would have been better titled Ballard for Kindergarteners or Ballard Made EZ.  (Casey is Vaughan from Crash.  Yes, there is repetition in Crash, but it is repetition with purpose, repetition with nuance, repetition with difference.  Here, there is only the infinite repetition of the Same.)  The Tarzanesque pseudo-sentence “How the future you have tomorrow won’t be the same future you had yesterday” (Pages Four and 253) was pocketed from French poet and thinker Paul Valery (“The problem with the present is that the future is no longer what it used to be”).  The illiterately worded statement “History is, it’s just a nightmare” (p. 60) was lifted directly from Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.  (Not that Palahniuk has read Valery or Marx, mind you. He has admitted that his information largely comes from talking to those he meets at parties and from his followers.)  Even the rabies motif was thieved.  David Cronenberg’s Rabid (1976), anyone?

Rant is littered with pop-nihilistic syllogisms, statements of the obvious that are presented as “deep truths”: “Rant meant that no one is happy, anywhere” (p. 12).  Who doesn’t know that car-salesmen mimic the body language of potential clients?

The subhuman prose is even more galling than the book’s content.  Nearly every other sentence contains a double subject.  For instance: “The flight attendant, she asks this hillbilly what’s it he wants to drink” (p. 2).  A slightly less awkward, slightly less annoying, grammatical way of writing the “sentence” would be: “The flight attendant asks a hillbilly what he would like to drink.”  Palahniuk, however, insists on multiplying the subjects in his sentences ad nauseam, with unbearably irritating results.  Palahniuk’s defendants claim that he isn’t really as dimwitted as he seems to be, that his narrators are merely functionally illiterate.  If that is the case, they must explain why Palahniuk interviews in a functionally illiterate manner, why he writes “essays” in a functionally illiterate manner, and why every character in his universe is functionally illiterate, including those who hold doctorates.  If Palahniuk is merely impersonating a lobotomized orangutan on heroin, why would he write essays and speak in exactly the same simian language?

And so we have the grating misusage of the word “liminal”–over and over and over and over again…  We have Phoebe Truffeau, Ph.D., who uses phrases such as “prohibitions to [sic] bestiality” (p. 82).  We have teachers who say things such as “That Elliot girl, she told me the Tooth Fairy left [the coin] in exchange for a tooth she’d lost” (p. 52) and “Money you don’t work to earn, you spend very quickly” (p. 54).  We have Lowell Richards, teacher, who uses the phrase “indirectly and obliquely” (p. 99).  Whenever Palahniuk tries to write as “the smart people” do, he reveals himself as a half-wit.

And we have unspeakably hideous sentence fragments such as: “The ice melt and disappear” (p. 2).  Whenever Palahniuk tries to revise a cliche, such as Andy Warhol’s overly cited declaration “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,” he comes up with a monstrosity: “In the future, everyone will sit next to someone famous for at least fifteen minutes” (p. 5).  Palahniuk’s revision makes no sense: I’m assuming that “everyone” includes “the famous,” which implies, of course, that in the future, the famous will also sit next to the famous.

Perhaps most offensively, Rant croaks out, in a particularly infantile passage, that AIDS is a “disease” that has been “spread” by a single carrier–that it is a “disease” like any other disease–when, in fact, AIDS is a syndrome of diseases, a pandemic, for which no single individual is accountable.

Allegedly, “Rant” refers to the sound that babies make when they vomit.  Now, I’ve never actually heard a baby make such a noise, but perhaps one should take the “author” at his word.  The title seems perfectly appropriate.  Simplistic, stupid, superficial, tedious, and derivative, Rant is the verbal equivalent to chunks of infantile regurgitate.

The same could be said of all of Palahniuk’s “works,” which are not based on the imagination (the “author” seemingly has no imagination whatsoever), but rather on whatever he is leafing through at the present moment.  As I stated above: Palahniuk has admitted that his books are collages of interviews he has had with random people in bars and at parties, as well as the four or five non-fiction books he leases from his local public library every time he sits down to write a “novel.”  The rest of the information is “Googled.”

Regrettably, Palahniuk is an incompetent “borrower.”  There is often the question, in his books, of relevancy. In Survivor, there is a longish passage on lobster-eating that was apparently lifted word for word from a book on dining etiquette.  What, precisely, does this passage have to do with Survivor‘s narrative?  Answer: Absolutely nothing.

Palahniuk wrote Lullaby in three weeks. I’m not entirely certain how much time it took him to disgorge Rant.  My guess would be two weekends.  I don’t say this to praise Palahniuk, as if he were capable of fashioning a well-crafted novel in two weekends with the dexterity of a Picasso, who could toss off a painting in an afternoon.  Rant is writing-workshop trash.  It reads as if it were a live-journal or Web log written by a subnormal high-school stoner, retched out and fraught with galling errors.

Palahniuk’s followers worship their leader as if he were a god.  But God is not an artist.

Neither is Chuck Palahniuk.

Dr. Joseph Suglia