Palahniuk, Chuck 1962-
Palahniuk, Chuck 1962-
Surname is pronounced "paul-ah-nik"; born February 21, 1962, in Pasco, WA; son of Fred (a railroad brakeman) and Carol (an office manager at a nuclear power plant) Palahniuk. Education: University of Oregon, received journalism degree, 1986.
Home—Portland, OR. Agent—Edward Hibbert, Donadio and Olson, Inc, 121 W. 27th St, Ste. 704, New York, NY 10001.
Writer and novelist. Briefly worked for a newspaper in Gresham, OR; worked for Freightliner as a service documentation specialist for thirteen years; appeared as rapper "Chucky P." on BBC Radio.
National Cacophony Society.
Oregon Book Award, and Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, both for Fight Club; Bram Stoker Award nomination for best novel, Horror Writers Association, 2003, for Lullaby.
Fight Club, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1996.
Invisible Monsters, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1999.
Survivor, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1999.
Choke, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2001.
Lullaby (first in a trilogy), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2002.
Diary, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.
Haunted: A Novel of Stories, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2005.
Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2007.
Snuff, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2008.
Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon, Crown (New York, NY), 2003.
Stranger Than Fiction, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including Gear, Playboy, Portland Mercury, Independent, L.A. Weekly, and Black Book.
Fight Club was released as a film in 1999; novels Invisible Monsters and Choke are being adapted for film.
The author of several unconventional novels as well as a quirky hometown travelogue and a collection of essays on Hollywood cult figures, Chuck Palahniuk began his writing career with the apocalyptic novel Fight Club, which became a cult classic and the basis of the 1999 Hollywood film of the same title. It features a secret fight club in which men beat each other bloody and whose members eventually develop into an anarchist army that is funded by selling soap made of liposuctioned human fat. Palahniuk's subsequent works have featured equally shocking and bizarre premises, and are also sustained by the author's black humor and cynical viewpoint. On the heels of the film, Palahniuk quickly published three more novels, Invisible Monsters, Survivor, and Choke.
In the wake of Fight Club, Palahniuk has repeatedly been called on to tell his own story, in which he once despaired of ever becoming a novelist. His job documenting diesel service procedures left little time for writing. He thought about waiting to write until he retired, but came to the conclusion that he might die before that happened. So Palahniuk snatched moments in waiting rooms, laundromats, and traffic jams, squeezing in the work whenever he could. He sent a manuscript to a publisher and it was rejected, presumably because of its rather shocking content. Instead of feeling discouraged, Palahniuk got mad and decided to send the publisher an even more outrageous story. The novel Fight Club was the result.
Palahniuk has also related how life experiences have inspired his novels. Fight Club was born of Palahniuk's own fights, and of the lack of response his bruised and bloody face got from coworkers. He told Salon.com Web site writer Sarah Tomlinson that he realized "you could really do anything you wanted in your personal life, as long as you looked so bad that people would not want to know the details. I started thinking of a fight club as a really structured, controlled way of just going nuts in a really safe situation." However, in Fight Club this "safe" pastime has frightening consequences. The unnamed narrator has a bland, unhappy life, and has been seeking solace, however undeserved, by faking terminal illness at support-group meetings. He befriends Tyler Durden, an unpredictable young man who suggests starting the fight club. It is Durden who starts having an affair with Marla, a woman the narrator met at a meeting where he claimed to have testicular cancer. The fight club inspires countless others and it turns out that Durden has larger, destructive plans for his army of thousands of nihilists. He unveils Project Mayhem, a plan to terrorize corporate America by attacking the world's tallest building.
Critics described Fight Club as both disturbing and fascinating. A Publishers Weekly contributor warned that almost any reader was likely to find something offensive. The reviewer called the book "caustic, outrageous, bleakly funny, violent and always unsettling" as well as "utterly original." In a Booklist review, Thomas Gaughan described Fight Club as "gen X's most articulate assault yet on baby-boomer sensibilities" and a work sure to disturb young readers' parents. He noted that it was "powerful, and possibly brilliant."
In an article on the Guardian Unlimited Web site, Stuart Jeffries considered the literary and social relevance of Fight Club. Jeffries called the novel "the 90s reply to American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis's satire on youthful white-collar greed and banality in Wall Street in the 80s." His interview with Palahniuk revealed that the author has read Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Camus; and Jeffries felt that "it shows in his nihilistic insistence on destroying lifestyles that serve nobody well, and recognizing the importance of mortality." The reviewer also remarked that the book "has proven appealing to men of a certain age. At times it seems to be exclusively about men whose fathers were absent during their childhoods." Moreover, Jeffries surmised that at several points the novel "suggests that all-male clubs are the only way men can re-establish their male potency."
Concern about the impact of Fight Club increased with the release of the feature film. The emergence of copycat clubs did not disturb Palahniuk, who believes their members were probably already expressing their violent impulses in other, more dangerous ways. However, a rumor emerged that Twentieth Century-Fox delayed the film's release following the tragic shootings at Columbine High School.
The author's second novel, Survivor, is also a violent, darkly comic, bitter picture of American life. Its chapters proceed in reverse chronological order, beginning with forty-seven, and the pages begin with number 289 and end with one. Thus, the reader is introduced to the protagonist Tender Branson moments before his death, as his plane is about to crash into the Australian desert. Branson is telling his story into the jet's black box, explaining how he came to be the last living member of the Creedish Death Cult. His story is outrageous: as a Creedalist, he became an unpaid servant in exchange for donations to the church; slave labor charges and an FBI raid on the Creedish compound resulted in a mass suicide; media interest in Branson turned him into a celebrity and book-selling, self-help guru. But it is also revealed that the cult suicides may in fact be murders, and that Branson's brother Adam may be a survivor and a serial killer.
Reviews of Survivor were enthusiastic, although Fight Club sometimes cast a shadow over the new novel. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "brilliant, engrossing, substantial, and fun" and asserted that "Palahniuk carves out credible, moving dramas from situations that seemed simply outlandish and sad on the evening news." Village Voice writer Lily Burana was disappointed by what followed a fascinating open: "Problem is, once it is revealed that Tender is the last surviving Creedish, the book becomes predictable. The narrative swerves from the deft, carefully imagined satire of a tiny, workaday life and plunges straight into a Toontown-like hyperbolic broadcast of living large before the masses." At the review's end, she also pondered whether "many young-adult readers—hungry kids trapped in suburban and rural America … might make a cult hero of Palahniuk."
The original manuscript for Palahniuk's third novel, Invisible Monsters, was the story that publishers rejected prior to Fight Club. Palahniuk was glad to have had the chance to improve the novel, and rewrote over three-quarters of the book before submitting it. In part a satirical stab at the fashion industry, the novel was conceived after its author sat reading fashion magazines at his local laundromat. Commenting on the novel in the Village Voice, Palahniuk called Invisible Monsters "a Valley of the Dolls book, a summer beach book." He went on to say: "Don't take it very seriously." However, he also noted it was inspired by his reading of French philosopher Michael Foucault and Foucault's exploration of identity.
Like Survivor, Invisible Monsters begins at its story's end; however, it then reveals episodes in Shannon McFarland's life in a random sequence. Shannon is a former model who lost the lower half of her face in a shooting. She is left without a career and is filled with anger at her ex-boyfriend Manus and her ex-girlfriend Evie, who had an affair after the shooting. Convinced that the pair may be responsible for her wounds, Shannon goes on a cross-country road trip with a new friend, the transgendered Brandy Alexander. Their goal is to confront Evie in Texas, where she is about to be married. In the process, Shannon and Brandy kidnap Manus and start secretly feeding him female hormone pills. In the process, it is revealed that Brandy is Shannon's brother, whom she had believed was dead of AIDS.
The plot's twists and jumps left many reviewers on the fence about Invisible Monsters. A Kirkus Reviews writer called it "too clever by half: a Chinese box of a novel fascinating in its intricacies but pretty hard to get a grip on whole." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly tired of the flashbacks and use of "a fashion photographer's commands … to signpost the narrator's epiphanies," but acknowledged that the book "does have fun moments when campy banter tops the heroine's flat, whiny bathos." Writing for Booklist, George Needham noted: "By the end, most readers will be both exhausted and exhilarated."
Palahniuk's fourth novel, Choke, firmly cemented his reputation as a skilled writer who continues to keep his readers uncomfortable. In this novel, the central character is Victor Mancini, a young man who supplements his paycheck in an unusual way: he fakes choking in a different restaurant every night, confident that someone will volunteer to save him and, upon hearing his hard-luck story, send him cash on a regular basis. Victor is a medical school dropout, works a menial job at a historical village, and is a sex addict who indulges himself mid-flight in airplane bathrooms. Flashbacks show that Victor's mother, now a senile woman in a nursing home, gave him a miserable childhood. However, he still wants to help her. A mysterious doctor at the nursing home reveals that his mother believes he was conceived by her contact with a holy relic, which would make him the son of Jesus.
In a review for the New York Times, Janet Maslin was both frustrated and impressed by elements in Choke. She introduced the story line with the comment that "Palahniuk is hard to beat if you'd like a working definition of the adolescent male state of mind." And she named him among Irvine Welsh and J.G. Ballard as "writers equally devoted to bizarre circumstances and the bleakest of humor." Yet Maslin admired "the sheer, anarchic fierceness of imagination that fuels [the novel's] wildest individual vignettes," and dubbed Choke "an uneven but still raw and vital book, punctuated with outrageous, off-the-wall moments that work as often as not."
Palahniuk's more recent project is a horror trilogy that begins with the novel Lullaby. In this bizarre tale, newspaper reporter Carl Streator is writing a story about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) when he discovers a macabre connection with a book of poetry. In each of the five cases of SIDS he investigates he finds the same edition of the book in which an ancient African tribal poem has been reprinted. The poem was originally intended as a way to decrease the tribes' population in desperate times when there was not enough food to go around. Now it has been carelessly reprinted in a book, and the dilemma the reporter faces is that he does not know how many copies of the book are extant and how to get rid of them before it is too late. Teaming up with a real estate agent, Helen Hoover Boyle, who also knows the "culling song," Streator sets out to destroy all known copies of the book. Two more strange characters join in this eerie quest, Mona, Helen's assistant, and her boyfriend, Oyster.
Maslin, writing in the New York Times, was again both fascinated and repelled by Palahniuk's "tireless pursuit of the outrageous" in Lullaby. Like Kurt Vonnegut, he "juggles nihilism and idealism with fluid, funny ease, and he repeats and rephrases word patterns until they take on an almost mystical aspect." Virginia Heffernan, reviewing Lullaby for the New York Times Book Review, was less impressed, dubbing the novel a "nauseating picaresque" with "less than zero sacred." A Kirkus Reviews contributor saw more to like in the novel, calling it the kind of "outrageous, darkly comic fun … you'd expect from Palahniuk." Booklist contributor John Green commented that what separates Lullaby from Palahniuk's earlier work "is its emotional depth, its ability to explore the unbearable pain of losing a child just as richly as it laments our consume-or-die worldview."
Palahniuk's sixth novel, Diary, is told in the form of a diary that Misty Marie Kleinman writes for her carpenter husband, Peter Wilmot, who lies in a coma following a suicide attempt. Misty is an artist who prefers the blandly pictorial to edgy modern art; she was attracted to Peter originally because of the picturesque island he took her to live on. However, she wound up working as a waitress to support her daughter and mother-in-law, while Peter's carpentry work became an outlet for his mental instability, as he started engineering hidden rooms in which he plastered obscenities. Misty has now become consumed with her painting, and her friends and acquaintances mysteriously want her to paint more and more; if she stops, she gets excruciating headaches. The force that drives her somehow seems to be controlled by members of her family, whose intentions are unclear.
Typically, reviews of Diary were mixed. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author "captures the reader hook, line and sinker" from the first page, and then spins a "twisted tale [that is] one of his most memorable works to date." Booklist reviewer John Green similarly found that the book's "fantastically grotesque premise propels the story," but also found fault with the writing, which "lacks the satirical precision" of Palahniuk's other works. In contrast, Book contributor James Sullivan praised Diary as a "deft meditation on great art and the toll it takes." David Wright, reviewing the novel in Library Journal, called Diary a "blend of paranoiac horror along the lines of Rosemary's Baby," while Flynn, in Entertainment Weekly, dubbed the work "pretty stunning, funky stuff."
Entertainment Weekly contributor Anthony Bourdain called Haunted: A Novel of Stories "brilliantly written and thoroughly hilarious." The novel, which is much like a collection of short stories, is built around a group of seventeen writers who answer an ad for a writer's retreat. However, once they get to the retreat, they find themselves trapped in a huge theatre working to write their masterpieces. "The … book … takes its cue from the old story about Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and friends holing up in the Villa Diodati during a thunderstorm and brainstorming the stories that would form the basis of Frankenstein and The Vampyre," wrote Tom Shone in the New York Times Book Review. The result is seventeen horror stories by writers who soon learn that they may also be kidnap victims. Several reviewers noted the grotesque nature of some of the stories. For example, in "Guts," a young boy has his guts sucked out while masturbating at the bottom of a pool.
Writing a review of Haunted in Entertainment Weekly, Whitney Pastorek noted that the author's "prose … is, as always, gorgeous." Calling Haunted an "over-the-top gore fest," Booklist contributor John Green went on to write in the same review that the author "is exploring our yearning for suffering and our newfound desire to make our misery marketable."
In his eighth novel, Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, Palahniuk tells the story of a folk hero who may have been a serial killer. "Rant is Huckleberry Finn dragged through the trailer park and coated with Bondo," commented Cheryl Truman in the Lexington Herald-Leader. Casey is nicknamed "Rant" because of the sound children make vomiting. Rant's life is told from beginning to end through the voices of those who knew him, from family and friends to enemies and sycophant followers. Starting as a small-town boy, Rant contracts rabies by sticking his hand into animal warrens and quickly spreads the disease throughout the town. Eventually, Rant heads off to the big city, where he joins the Nighttimers, a nihilistic group of people who dress up for parties and crash cars. Booklist contributor Keir Graff called Rant "a memorable portrait of the cults that gather around authentically different people and a portrait of dystopia that feels unsettlingly contemporary." Neil Hollands wrote in the Library Journal that the author's "writing churns with adrenaline and other bodily fluids" and that the story "is gruesome, lightning fast, and the darkest kind of funny."
Among the author's nonfiction works is Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon. The book is a travelogue of Portland but written with Palahniuk's unique and twisted view of what to see in the West Coast city. For example, the author visits a mausoleum, a "sexy" sauna, and a medical supply shop. Noah Robischon, writing in Entertainment Weekly, noted that "this street atlas of the weird makes for an intoxicating trip." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "Palahniuk's fondness for his not-so-sleepy hamlet comes through in each gritty detail."
Stranger Than Fiction is a collection of magazine articles and original essays ranging from profiles of singer Marilyn Manson to articles about the author's own life and how it has changed since the publication of Fight Club. In another article "Testy Festy," the author writes about the Rock Lodge Testicle Festival in Montana, which began as a promotional effort to market testicles for food but has evolved into a get together focusing on debauchery. Commenting on one article, titled "Escort," a Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that "the author describes his stint as a hospice volunteer and says more in five pages about death than most novelists do in their entire careers." Writing in the Library Journal, Nancy R. Ives noted that the author "doesn't disappoint in this collection of imaginative nonfiction."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, September-October, 2002, Michael Kaplan, interview with Palahniuk, p. 13; September-October, 2003, James Sullivan, review of Diary, p. 92.
Booklist, July, 1996, Thomas Gaughan, review of Fight Club, p. 1804; September 15, 1999, George Needham, review of Invisible Monsters, p. 233; August, 2002, John Green, review of Lullaby, p. 1887; July, 2003, John Green, review of Diary, p. 1846, and Bill Ott, review of Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon, p. 1858; December 15, 2003, Ted Hipple, review of Diary, p. 762; May 15, 2004, John Green, review of Stranger Than Fiction, p. 1591; March 1, 2005, John Green, review of Haunted: A Novel of Stories, p. 1102; March 1, 2007, Keir Graff, review of Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, p. 39.
Books, June 2, 2007, Kristin Kloberdanz, review of Rant, p. 7.
Bookseller, May 27, 2005, review of Haunted, p. 14; March 30, 2007, Philip Jones, "Too Extreme to Be Read out Loud? Chuck Palahniuk Tells Philip Jones Why It's Important for Fiction to Be Uncomfortable," p. 27.
Book World, May 29, 2005, Elizabeth Hand, "The Hunger Artists," review of Haunted, p. 6; May 20, 2007, Joe Hill, "A Short and Unhappy Life," review of Rant, p. 4.
Columbus Dispatch, May 16, 2007, "Young Imaginations Need More Fiction, Satirist Says."
Contra Costa Times, May 20, 2007, "Fans Rant, Rave over Palahniuk."
Entertainment Weekly, May 25, 2001, Troy Patterson, "Hard to Swallow: In Choke, the Latest from the Author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk's Hip Nihilism Comes to Naught," p. 72; July 18, 2003, Noah Robischon, review of Fugitives and Refugees, p. 80; September 5, 2003, Gillian Flynn, review of Diary, p. 79; September 26, 2003, Karen Valby, "Chuck Palahniuk Does Not Attend Fight Club," p. 62, and Noah Robischon, "Joining the Club," p. 67; June 18, 2004, Noah Robischon, review of Stranger Than Fiction, p. 90; May 20, 2005, Whitney Pastorek, review of Haunted, p. 80; July 21, 2006, Anthony Bourdain, "A Book You Have to Read," review of Haunted, p. 75; May 11, 2007, Jeff Jensen, review of Rant, p. 77.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 7, 2004, "Sometimes, True Stories Are Better than Anything You'd Make Up."
Internet Bookwatch, February, 2005, review of Stranger Than Fiction.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1998, review of Survivor, p. 1755; August 1, 1999, review of Invisible Monsters, p. 1160; June 15, 2002, review of Lullaby, p. 834; May 1, 2003, review of Fugitives and Refugees, p. 663; April 15, 2004, review of Stranger Than Fiction, p. 381; February 1, 2005, review of Haunted, p. 143.
Kliatt, September, 2003, Jacqueline Edwards, review of Diary, pp. 54-55.
Lexington Herald-Leader, May 16, 2007, Cheryl Truman, "Chuck Palahniuk: Caught with His Gardening Gloves On."
Library Bookwatch, February, 2005, review of Stranger Than Fiction.
Library Journal, March 1, 2001, Heath Madom, review of Choke, p. 132; August, 2002, Andrea Kempf, review of Lullaby, p. 144; July 2003, John McCormick, review of Fugitives and Refugees, p. 112; June 15, 2004, Nancy R. Ives, review of Stranger Than Fiction, p. 70; May 1, 2005, Ken St. Andre, review of Haunted, p. 75; May 1, 2007, Neil Hollands, review of Rant, p. 74.
Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1999, review of Fight Club, p. 1; October 6, 2002, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Lullaby, p. E1; August 10, 2003, Christopher Reynolds, review of Fugitives and Refugees, p. L9.
Men's Fitness, November, 2005, "Ultimate Paging Writer: Chuck Palahniuk," p. 82.
Miami Herald, June 1, 2005, Brett O'bourke, "For ‘Fight Club’ Author, Success—like a Plot—Can Be Prickly."
National Post, May 28, 2005, Adam Mansbach, "Stories Are Knitted Together with Gore," p. 13.
Newsweek, September 1, 2003, Andrew Phillips, "Books: What a Mob Scene" (interview with author), p. 10.
New York Times, May 24, 2001, Janet Maslin, "An Immature Con Man with a Mom Problem"; September 29, 2002, John Glassie, "The Pugilist Novelist" (interview), p. 21; September 12, 2002, Janet Maslin, review of Lullaby, p. E9; August 31, 2003, Taylor Antrim, review of Fugitives and Refugees, and Diary, p. 5; May 7, 2007, Janet Maslin, "Appetite for Destruction: A Messianic Monster, Trained in Pain," p. 7.
New York Times Book Review, May 27, 2001, Jennifer Reese, review of Choke, p. 16; October 20, 2002, Virginia Heffernan, review of Lullaby, p. 17; May 22, 2005, Tom Shone, "Gore Values," review of Haunted, p. 20; June 3, 2007, Field Maloney, "Demolition Man," review of Rant, p. 10.
Philadelphia Inquirer, May 16, 2007, Katie Haegele, review of Rant.
Poets & Writers Magazine, March 1, 2004, Jeff Sartain, "Professor Palahniuk? Not Quite," p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, June 3, 1996, review of Fight Club, p. 60; July 5, 1999, review of Invisible Monsters, p. 56; March 20, 2000, John F. Baker, "Fight Club Author to Broadway," p. 15; April 2, 2001, review of Choke, p. 37; July 1, 2002, review of Lullaby, pp. 46-47; July 8, 2002, John F. Baker, "No D-day Choke for Chuck," p. 12; September 2, 2002, "Chuck Palahniuk: Road Trips and Romance," p. 49; May 12, 2003, review of Fugitives and Refugees, p. 51; July 7, 2003, review of Choke, pp. 26-27; July 7, 2003, review of Diary, pp. 50-51; September 8, 2003, Daisy Maryles, "Dear Diary," p. 18; December 1, 2003, review of Diary, p. 20; February 21, 2005, review of Haunted, p. 154; March 5, 2007, review of Rant, p. 35.
Rolling Stone, June 30, 2005, Erik Hedegaard, "A Heartbreaking Life of Staggering Weirdness," p. 124.
Seattle Times, November 22, 2005, Richard Seven, "Author Chuck Palahniuk: On Portland's Edge" (interview with author).
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, August 11, 2004, "Chuck Palahniuk Explores the Insidious, False Promise of the American Dream."
Time, September 23, 2002, Richard Lacayo, review of Lullaby, p. 76.
Times Literary Supplement, July 15, 2005, Tim Pashley, review of Haunted, p. 21; May 18, 2007, Henry Hitchings, "Destruction Derbies," review of Rant, p. 22.
USA Today, May 31, 2005, Carol Memmott, "Palahniuk's Work Can ‘Make You Feel a Little Sick,’" p. 4; May 8, 2007, David Daley, review of Rant, p. 4.
Village Voice, February 24, Lily Burana, "Cult Club; October 13-19," Emily Jenkins, "Extreme Sport."
Washington Post Book World, May 27, 2001, review of Choke, p. 6; August 31, 2003, Marc Nesbitt, review of Diary.
Chuck Palahniuk Official Fan Site,http://www.chuckpalahniuk.net (November 17, 2007).
Guardian Unlimited,http://www.guardian.co.uk/ (May 12, 2000), Stuart Jeffries, "Bruise Control."
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (November 17, 2007), information on author's film work.
Oregonian Online,http://www.oregonlive.com/ (December 19, 2003), Shawn Levy, review of "We Barely Saw Ye, Chuck."
Powells.com,http://www.powells.com/ (September 4, 2003), C.P. Farley, "Author Interviews: Chuck Palahniuk."
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (October 13, 1999), Sarah Tomlinson, "Is It Fistfighting, or Just Multitasking?"
Telegraph Online,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ (October 21, 2003), William Leith, "A Writer's Life: Chuck Palahniuk."
Weekend All Things Considered, July 4, 2004, "Interview: Chuck Palahniuk Discusses His Style of Writing in ‘Stranger than Fiction.’"
Weekend Edition Sunday, October 8, 2006, "Novelist Palahniuk Sets Aside Time for His Fans."
Widmyer, Dennis, Kevin Kolsch, and Josh Chaplinsky, Postcards from the Future: The Chuck Palahniuk Documentary (film), ChuckPalahniuk.net, 2003.