A Guide to Chuck Palahniuk's Novels

Here's my highly-subjective guide to Chuck Palahniuk works of fiction.  He also has a few non-fiction books, but they're a different thing altogether, so I'm going to ignore them here even though I've read them too.

Interestingly, I think Chuck's books have the opposite pattern as the Star Trek movies.  You know, where only the even ones were any good and the odd-numbered ones ranged from "just okay" to "skip it."  I found that I liked every other book by him, but the first one was good.  I've liked everything past Diary, however, except for Tell-All.

Briefly, here are my thoughts in chronological order of his works (which is almost exactly the same order as I read them):

Fight Club (1996) - This is a rare case where the book isn't as good as the movie, but it's interesting in that it's the basis of a really, really good movie.  I happen to enjoy reading books to see how they're constructed, and this one has the conscious construction of using recipes as thematic elements based on the way Like Water For Chocolate did.  Additionally, the infamous rules of Fight Club were written as a similar exercise.  I enjoy things like that when they're done well.  He isn't always successful with those sorts of games (e.g., Diary), but this is a case where it worked really well.

Survivor (1999) - A lot of people like this one, but my two criticisms are 1) It's too much like Fight Club, so why bother? and 2) You will see the big plot twist coming from miles away.  On the other hand, if you liked Fight Club, it's a lot like Fight Club, so maybe you'll enjoy it.

Invisible Monsters (1999) - Loved it.  Unlike the above, this one has good plot twists that didn't seem contrived or predictable.  I think I figured out one of three of them.  It also happens to have a female central character, which was the first time he'd done that.  Update: Chuck recently published Invisible Monsters Remixed which is an alternate, less linear telling of this novel.  I haven't read it, so I can't comment.

Choke (2001) - I don't hate this one but I really didn't like it.  My biggest complaint is the fact that there's all this build-up that ultimately goes nowhere.  I remember reading it, getting about twenty pages from the end, and thinking, "There's no way this is going to wrap up in any way I'm going to find interesting."  And I was right.  There are good bits in it, but the end was just a big blah, and there are some attempts to be funny where I'm like, "Yeah, yeah," like the ironic role-playing rape scene in which the female "victim" is constantly giving her male "attacker" a hard time because he isn't playing out her fantasy to the very last detail.  So, okay, he's being victimized and used.  Me: "Yeah, yeah.  I get it already."

Lullaby (2002) - Really good story, and it's probably the most accessible of all his books.  This has my vote for the most film-able of all Chuck's books, and I think it would be a good one.  It's also the first time he shifted into a different genre.  This and the two that follow are considered his "horror trilogy."

Diary (2003) - It just didn't work.  I thought the ending was great, but I just didn't like it, and no one else seemed to either, including the critics.  I can't put my finger on why exactly, other than the fact the "seams" were kind of obvious.  By that I mean that it was distractingly apparent where he was shoe-horning assorted elements into the narrative, the way he previously did with recipes for soap and explosives in Fight Club, only it just felt so forced that I was annoyed with it.

Haunted (2005) - Good stuff.  The main criticism people have with this book is that it's brutal, like he pulled out all the stops.  My view of criticisms like that are that there ought to be novelists out there trying to find the extremes, and maybe this deserves commending precisely *because* it pushed the envelope.  Personally, I liked it.  It's also unusual in its story-telling approach.  Chuck started changing up his writing style in less-than-subtle ways around this point, which is something few point out about him even though it's the mark of a great artist instead of a hack who falls back on what was commercially successful.  I mean, he's still experimenting even though he has a loyal following at this point.  Respect!

Rant (2007) - Another stylistic change.  Here the story is told through oral history from multiple interviewees.  It's probably my least favorite of the ones I like, but I don't dislike it.  As with most other works, he always drops in weird things that keep it interesting even when the story itself doesn't have enough going on to keep your attention.

Snuff (2008) - Kind of an experiment as well.  Most of the novel takes place in the same day, other than in flashbacks.  Good plot twists too.  It's also funny that a gay man writes a whole novel about a heterosexual porn shoot.

Pygmy (2009) - Starts kind of silly, and by the point it's ridiculously unbelievable, that's where it's actually really funny.  I didn't think I was going to like it until the story got going good.  It's also another stylistic shift, where the entire novel is a series of letters from the main character back to his government masters.

Tell-All (2010) - I couldn't get into this one, and apparently I'm not the only one.  Even friends who read his stuff religiously couldn't finish this book.  I made it about a third of the way through and decided to wait until I find the audiobook at the library.

Damned (2011) - Haven't read it yet.  Sounds interesting in terms of the content.  However, it's something of a parody of teen novels like the V.C. Andrews crap that was the Twilight series of the late '80s.  I never really those, so I worry that I'll be missing references to that material.

To sum it up...

Here are the ones I like, and possibly an order in which to read them.  Except for Fight Club maybe, since you've probably seen it already.
Fight Club (1996)
Lullaby (2002)
Invisible Monsters (1999)
Haunted (2005)
Rant (2007)
Snuff (2008)
Pygmy (2009)

Didn't like these.  I'm not saying they don't have their merits, but my overall reaction to them was negative.
Survivor (1999)
Choke (2001)
Diary (2003)
Tell-All (2010)

Haven't read any of it to form an opinion.
Damned (2011)

So take your pick.  I will be curious to hear/read your thoughts on whatever you start out with.

Copyright 2012 Alexplorer.
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