Chuck Palahniuk


invisible monsters

Chuck Palahniuk [pall-uh-nik] (b. 1962) is an American transgressional fiction novelist, a genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual and/or illicit ways. Because they are rebelling against the basic norms of society, protagonists of transgressional fiction may seem mentally ill, anti-social, or nihilistic. The genre deals extensively with taboo subject matters such as drugs, sex, violence, incest, pedophilia, and crime.

He is best known for the award-winning novel ‘Fight Club,’ which was later made into a film directed by David Fincher.

Palahniuk would become a member of the rebellious Cacophony Society early in his adulthood. He is a regular participant in their events, including the annual ‘Santa Rampage’ (a public Christmas party involving pranks and drunkenness) in Portland. His participation in the Society inspired some of the events in his writings, both fictional and non-fictional. Most notably, he used the Cacophony Society as the basis for ‘Project Mayhem’ in ‘Fight Club.’

Palahniuk began writing fiction in his mid-thirties. By his account, he started writing while attending writer’s workshops, hosted by Tom Spanbauer, which he attended to meet new friends. Spanbauer largely inspired Palahniuk’s minimalistic writing style. His first book, Insomnia: If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Already,’ never was adapted due to his disappointment with the story (though a small part of it was later salvaged for use in ‘Fight Club’).

When he attempted to publish his next novel, ‘Invisible Monsters,’ publishers rejected it for its disturbing content. This led him to work on his most famous novel, ‘Fight Club,’ which he wrote as an attempt to disturb the publisher even more for rejecting him. Palahniuk wrote this story in his spare time. After initially publishing it as a short story (which would become chapter 6 of the novel) in the 1995 compilation ‘Pursuit of Happiness,’ Palahniuk expanded it into a full novel, which—contrary to his expectations—the publisher was willing to publish.

In 1999, a revised version of ‘Invisible Monsters,’ as well as his fourth novel, ‘Survivor,’ were published, allowing Palahniuk to become a cult figure himself. A few years later Palahniuk managed to make his first New York Times bestseller, the novel ‘Choke.’

The year 1999 brought a series of great personal tragedies to Palahniuk’s life. At that time, his father, Fred Palahniuk, had started dating a woman named Donna Fontaine. Fontaine’s ex-boyfriend Dale Shackleford had recently been imprisoned for sexual abuse. Shackleford had vowed to kill Fontaine as soon as he was released from prison. After his release, Shackleford followed Fontaine and the senior Palahniuk to Fontaine’s home in Kendrick, Idaho, after they had gone out for a date. Shackleford then shot them both and dragged their bodies into Fontaine’s cabin home, which he set on fire immediately afterwards. In the wake of these events, Palahniuk began working on the novel ‘Lullaby.’ According to him, he wrote the novel to help him cope with having helped decide to have Shackleford get the death sentence.

Palahniuk’s books prior to ‘Lullaby’ have distinct similarities. The characters are people who have been marginalized in one form or another by society, and who react with often self-destructive aggressiveness (a form of story that the author likes to describe as transgressive fiction). Starting with ‘Lullaby,’ his novels have been satirical horror stories.

The narratives of Palahniuk’s books are often structured in medias res, starting at the temporal end, with the protagonist recounting the events that led up to the point at which the book begins. ‘Lullaby’ used a variation of this, alternating between the normal, linear narrative and the temporal end after every few chapters. However, exceptions to this narrative form include the more linear ‘Choke’ and ‘Diary.’ There is often a major plot twist that is revealed near the end of the book which relates in some way to this temporal end (what Palahniuk refers to as ‘the hidden gun’). His more linear works also include similar plot twists.

In what the author refers to as a minimalistic approach, his writings use a limited vocabulary and short sentences to mimic the way that an average person telling a story would talk. In an interview, he said that he prefers to write in verbs instead of adjectives. Repetitions of certain lines in the stories’ narratives (what Palahniuk refers to as ‘choruses’) are one of the most common aspects of his writing style, found dispersed within most chapters of his novels.

Palahniuk has said that there are also some choruses between novels; the color cornflower blue and the city of Missoula, Montana appear in many of his novels. The characters in Palahniuk’s stories often break into philosophical asides (either by the narrator to the reader, or spoken to the narrator through dialogue), offering numerous odd theories and opinions, often misanthropic or darkly absurdist in nature, on complex issues of death, morality, childhood, parenthood, sexuality, and God.

The content of his works earned him a reputation as a nihilist. Palahniuk however rejects this label, claiming he is a romantic, and that his works are mistakenly seen as nihilistic because they express ideas that others do not believe in.

Palahniuk represents a distinct voice for an interim generation. ‘Coming to consciousness during the Vietnam War, watching Watergate destroy trust in public office, and raised by parents among whom divorce was popular but not well managed’ this group, born between 1957 and 1965, grew up disassociated from and dissatisfied with institutions.

Palahniuk channels this spirit, its ache to build and its inability to follow through. As they have aged, this half-generation has not developed a strong sense of group identity and are well known to alumni offices across America as the ‘Lost Generation,’ regularly donating less to their colleges and universities than any other age group. From Project Mayhem in ‘Fight Club’ to Carl’s building and destroying of model buildings in ‘Lullaby,’ Palahniuk catheterizes his generation’s anger, failure, and disheartening desire to destroy whatever they build.

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