New Review: Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk is regularly dismissed by the snobs. Despite his sales, you will not see a New York Review of Books or a Bookforum essay on the man anytime soon. The atmosphere is too retrousse. Here is an author who seems to be uncritically admired by his fans and just as unilaterally (and unfairly) condemned by the literary elite. But people do read the man and the man is not without talent. It is a foolish person indeed who does not submerge himself with some frequency into the common lake of the average Joe. You really don’t need a nez relevé to appreciate the bas-reliefs of any structure.

Much as Jeff Vandermeer did earlier this week in the Washington Post, I approached Palahniuk’s latest novel, Pygymy, with this demarcated dichotomy in mind over at the Chicago Sun-Times. And yet the book’s voice proved so unusual for a popular book that I felt compelled to turn in an initial review mimicking its style. The editor wisely suggested that I rewrite it, permitting me to keep a paragraph. The review is much stronger as a result. One can indeed write a whole review or a whole book in a particular style, but the human heart must remain in conflict with itself. That makes this business worth the agony and the sweat.


  1. I’m happy to see him taking risks again. The last few have been so dull.

  2. It’s interesting to find out that moths are attracted to the sound of “loud” lightbulbs. Keep mixing those metaphors!

  3. Albtraum: You obviously haven’t heard of magnesium. Also, the noun is crowds, not moths. Therefore, the comparison is sound. Learn how to read, you fuckwit.

  4. Ah yes, the common metaphor whereby a novel is compared to a magnesium flash bulb, which summons a mothlike crowd of people with its loud noise. Whatever was I thinking? Only a fuckwit like me would have read a sentence which contained the words “moth” and “light bulb” and thought of moths and light bulbs. My sincerest apologies.

    It’s a good thing that the Sun-Times apparently doesn’t employ a fuckwit (i.e., competent editor), or we would have missed out on that choice magnesium metaphor, or other gems like these:

    1) “plopping atop bookstore floors over the course of several readings” – “over the course of” implies that it took several cumulative readings to induce atop-plopping in a single person, or that it took several readings for individual victims to plop in slow motion, which is not what you mean to say at all. I won’t go into how deeply weird it sounds to say someone fell atop the floor.

    2) “spread his seed into his sister” – I suppose you meant “plant”. It’s difficult to spread a seed into something, particularly a person.

    3) “Pygmy’s rise to instant celebrity is very close to Survivor’s Tender Branson.” His rise is close to Tender Branson? This is gibberish.

  5. (1) It was a cumulative record for fainting for the short story, “Guts.” So yes, the phrasing is accurate.

    (2) Pygmy is literally described as wanting to do that. Spread his seed into his sister as part of Operation Havoc.

    (3) Tender Branson is the protagonist in Survivor.

    As I said, please learn how to read.

    And, incidentally, albtraum, since you have a history of leaving comments that are deliberately trollish and without substance (under several names), please let me know if you intend to continue along these lines. I don’t understand why you would return to this website as often as you have if you despise what I do. If you wish to have a constructive conversation, then I’m happy to do so. If not, then I will proceed to ignore you. Your choice.

  6. Now, now, don’t get paranoid. I’ve only ever posted on here under the one name.

    And I keep reading your site because of the fascinating paradox I think I mentioned before: You clearly love literature, you’ve read widely yourself, and you clearly enjoy both discussing literature and criticizing it – yet you are just as clearly incapable of turning a critical eye on your own writing.

    For example, take the sentence I mentioned above about Tender Branson. I’ve read “Survivor”, and I know exactly who Tender Branson is.

    The problem with the sentence – what renders it gibberish – is not my insufficient knowledge of Tender Branson. It’s the fact that you wrote “Pygmy’s rise is close to Tender Branson.”

    You’ve compared a rise with a human being. That’s exactly like saying “Bob’s love of apples was similar to his orange”. It makes absolutely no sense. No sense at all.

    The fact that you immediately assumed the only problem with that sentence was MY IGNORANCE shows that either

    a) you can’t see grammatical errors in simple English phrases that wouldn’t get past a first grader, or

    b) you are so blind to the very concept of critically reading your own writing that all you can do is lash out angrily at anyone who brings up the subject.

    I think the first step towards a mature approach toward this situation would be to admit to yourself that “loud lightbulb” was not the best choice of metaphor. If you can’t do even that, then I should really stop trying to goad you into some sort of critical self-awareness, because it’s a lost cause.

  7. I’m perfectly happy to accept criticism, but you have misread the sentence’s intent. If your vanilla sensibilities can’t ken the poetic use of objective genitive (mirroring Palahniuk’s usage), then that’s your problem, not mine. I wish you happy and bland reading elsewhere.

  8. You have bad manners, Ed. Maybe this is the reason I am one of ten people who visit your site.

  9. Jeez, Ed. Just think what alb could have done with the frequent submergences of persons into the common lake of the average joe.

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