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on March 19, 2006
I think this is Palahniuk's best work since Fight Club. Each story in the collection takes the reader into a fascinating fringe land. From the shocking tour of the world of amateur wrestling ("Where Meat Comes From") to the poignant experiences of a rescue dog trainer ("Bodhisattvas"), the author uses the words of his subjects as well as his own to make darkly honest literary jewels.
Most interesting to me was the story of three Americans building castles in the modern world. They press on despite money-shortages, questioning neighbors, zoning problems, and hostile bankers. What really got me was the contrasting natures, goals, and backgrounds of the three builders. Each so different, yet they share a common but unusual achievement. It's striking that while they live within driving distance of one another, they don't even know of each other's existence.
The only true negative of the book is a puff piece on shock-artist Marilyn Manson. Mostly an interview, the author merely reiterates Manson's shopworn yarn about his life, tragedies, art, yada, yada. This article alone doesn't reach for some deeper truth and comes across as inauthentic.
I recommend you read this book today or, at the very latest, tomorrow. Must also recommend Jackson McCrae's "Katzenjammer" for another great book---along the lines of this one.
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on July 1, 2004
Crazy, sick, and wickedly good. These are just a few ways to describe my wandering feelings about 'Stranger Than Fiction' by Chuck Palahniuk as he wanders from subject to subject. His meandering thoughts that always seem to come back home to make a point and come together in fascinating round about story fashion is amazing. Really the only true comparisons are 'My Fractured Life' by Rikki Lee Travolta and 'Tenacity of the Cockroach' from the editors of The Onion newspaper. 'Stranger Than Fiction' is on the same level of brilliance as both of those books. It is just as unpredictable and engrossing, and just as rewarding.
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on June 12, 2004
Is one allowed to write a negative review of a Chuck Palahniuk book? Because his books make so much money, to say something negative about them is seen as a sin against capitalism, an offence as grave as blasphemy. We must conform, we are told, and worship him as a god.
Palahniuk's novels have gained a huge audience among unintelligent teenagers---precisely because the author is himself an unintelligent, 43-year-old teenager.
Nonetheless, his most recent "effort" (if such a word applies---no effort went into writing this book), the tritely titled STRANGER THAN FICTION risks alienating his rock-audience-sized fan base.
The clichés begin with the title and get worse from there.
The book is essentially a haphazard collection of hastily written notes. Some of them concern the author's own fame and the good things about it. Others concern celebrities he knows personally and who know him.
Palahniuk celebrates himself with all of the enthusiasm of an out-of-work B-movie actor. He tells us that he "SO writes" in order to meet people who look like Uma Thurman and JFK Jr.: "This is SO why I write." How noble. Unfortunately, Uma Thurman, who would not consider herself a writer, is infinitely more eloquent and thoughtful than "the writer" Palahniuk. In fact, Palahniuk is a man on the street who writes as the average man on the street would---except less literately.
There are "essays" (???) on Marilyn Manson and Juliette Lewis that contain nothing but quotes from Marilyn Manson and Juliette Lewis.
In the "essay," "Brinksmanship," Palahniuk laughs at his readers, telling them that what he is writing is "rushed and desperate." But, he also seems to say, "You'll read it anyway. After all, I'm a big name now." In other words, he spits out garbage on the page, and we have to spend our valuable time on reading this drivel. And the writer laughs and laughs and laughs...
There is an entire "essay" on Brad Pitt and his super-gorgeous lips. But, O no, don't be fooled, Gentle Reader. Palahniuk assures us that this isn't mere tabloid celebrity gossip. No. Don't be deceived. Palahniuk writes: "This wasn't really about Brad Pitt. It's about everybody." Really? You don't say!
When the writer makes cursory references to serious writers (ie. those who are not merely celebrities), such as Venturi or Derrida, it seems unlikely that he spent more than 15 minutes reading them.
The tone of the book is EXTREMELY corny. It is that of a ridiculous, self-important Sunday school teacher lecturing condescendingly to the children in his classroom. The style is not simple; it's simplistic. Minimalism is a powerful literary device, but this isn't minimalism. It's infantilism. Minimalism only seems simple; there is profundity in its pregnant cadences and silences. This book reeks of unearned profundity. There is no depth beneath the grade-school-level prose.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that Palahniuk writes like a 5-year-old. Here is what he writes to Ira Levin (whose ROSEMARY'S BABY he ripped off in DIARY): "That's very, VERY creepy!"
Palahniuk seems to believe that his life is interesting and that we will find his life interesting, as well. But the only things that can be important about a writer are the books that he or she writes. A writer's life isn't what is important.
Absolutely boring, self-glamorizing, and unreadable---unless you are Mick, Chick, or Chimp, of course.
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on November 27, 2007
I can do no better than give you an excerpt from this book as there's really no way to describe it:

In the ballroom at the Airport Sheraton Hotel, a team of men and women sit inside separate booths, curtained off from each other. They each sit at a small table, the curtains enclosing a space just big enough for the table and two chairs. And they listen. All day, they sit and listen.

Outside the ballroom, a crowd waits in the lobby, writers holding book manuscripts or movie screenplays. An organizer guards the ballroom doors, checking a list of names on a clipboard. She calls your name, and you step forward and follow her into the ballroom. The organizer parts a curtain. You take a seat at the little table. And you start to talk.

As a writer, you have seven minutes. Some places you might get eight or even ten minutes, but then the organizer will return to replace you with another writer. For this window of time, you've paid between twenty and fifty dollars to pitch your story to a book agent or a publisher or movie producer.

And all day, the ballroom at the Airport Sheraton is buzzing with talk. Most of the writers here are old--creepy old, retired people clutching their one good story. Shaking their manuscript in both spotted hands and saying, "Here! Read my incest story!"

A big segment of the storytelling is about personal suffering. There's the stink of catharsis. Of melodrama and memoir. A writer friend refers to this school as "the-sun-is-shining-the-birds-are-singing-and-my-father-is-on-top-of-me-again" literature.

In the lobby outside the hotel ballroom, writers wait, practicing their one big story on each other. A wartime submarine battle, or being knocked around by a drunk spouse. The story about how they suffered, but survived to win. Challenge and triumph. They time each other with wristwatches. In just minutes, they'll have to tell their story, and prove how it would be perfect for Julia Roberts. Or Harrison Ford. Or, if not Harrison, then Mel Gibson. And if not Julia, then Meryl.

Then, sorry, your seven minutes is up.

Have to recommend two other books: THE WOMAN WHO CUT OFF HER LEG and the novel CARNIVORE DIET both of which are worthwhile.
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on July 1, 2004
I started reading Chuck Palahniuk's books a few years ago when I read Fight Club and loved it, so Stranger Than Fiction seemed like an interesting read, and for the most part it was. It's nonfiction, and the stories it tells are interesting while giving us a little insight on how Chuck's mind actually works.
What we're given is a compilation of stories and articles Chuck had written for magazines, so for those of us that don't buy into magazines, it's interesting to finally see some of the stuff he's written for them. The downside is that not all of the stories are interesting.
The stories about steriod use, a day as a dog, the submarine, and the psychics are all great reads, ones that I enjoyed a lot. The personal ones were also good, which felt more like excerpts from a novel he may have written than magazine articles, but there are also the boring ones, which unfortunately bring the score down a few notches. I was personally bored by the article about castles. I bought the book to hear more Palahniuk's voice, and some of the articles do deliver, but then there are others that do not have the voice or sounds a little rough around the edges.
All in all, it's good if you have a little time and want to read another Palahniuk book, but don't be expecting another Fight Club.
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on June 20, 2004
Though he refers to himself as an Amy Hempel knockoff, Chuck Palahniuk resides among the best phrase-turners in American pop fiction - if he does nothing else - teasing readers with jabs for rabbit punches and haymakers to come even when the narrative runs from the rails.
Palahniuk's distinct talent for clipped, blunt prose still punctuates "Stranger Than Fiction," an anthology of essays and rants collected from recent magazine assignments, but every other aspect of the book is uneven: It is shabbily assembled, and few pieces are in depth or well-considered enough to be stand-alone gems. A moneymaker for both author and publisher Doubleday but not much more, "Stranger Than Fiction" hardly lives up to its title: Steroids, Marilyn Manson and castles are interesting enough, but not in the realm of Palahniuk's novels. Revealing himself more than ever before, Palahniuk comes off as a guy's guy with a taste for adventure and socializing and multitasking, more content, at least in the non-fiction arena, to hit and run than turn a subject inside-out.
For each segment that creates a full-bodied portrait - Palahniuk's committed, admiring feature on amateur wrestlers - there is the rootless, immature opener, "Testy Festy," a piece on a Montana sex carnival so pornographic it'll run off more potential buyers than it will attract, or the Tim O'Brien wannabe, "The People Can," as Palahniuk catalogs the life of a submarine well enough to frustrate the reader for its brevity. Palahniuk has planned an "on writing" book soon enough; in that case, best to leave out a short paean to Hempel and her minimalist style ("Not Chasing Amy") and expand it to the treatise Palahniuk intends, as evidenced by his Internet workshop. Same for the tribute to Ira Levin's socialite novels, "Sliver," "The Stepford Wives" and "Rosemary's Baby."
The one story for which this book seems made is a portrait of Palahniuk's father, who as a boy watched his father kill his mother than himself, and then in 1999 was murdered at 59 by the ex-husband of his new girlfriend. Palahniuk refers to it in parts of a few separate essays but never makes it a story unto its own (the date of some of these essays become apparent, too, when Palahniuk refers to his father's death as in recent past in one work, and "a few years ago" in another). There is room for three or four "Fight Club" anecdotes, which again should have been poured into one rumination on the entire project. The haphazard morsel approach on serious subjects reads like random toss offs whether Palahniuk intended it or not, while featurettes on Juliette Lewis and Manson are entirely too long and boring - a postscript on the Lewis piece about Palahniuk being kidnapped in a limo is better than both the star-fawning works are combined.
"Stranger Than Fiction" only becomes a must-read for ten pages during "You Are Here," a classic Palahniuk rant on ever-increasing tendency of aspiring writers to think of their own lives in seven-minute screenplays, unable to create the fictional motifs and vehicles necessary for a readable book. Palahniuk makes a compelling, focused argument disciplined right down to the piece's hook line: "Your seven minutes are up."
Better fighting the abstract battle against intellectual apathy than celebrity journalism, Palahniuk hasn't exactly embarrassed himself here. But he shouldn't quit his day job either.
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on June 15, 2004
"Is one allowed to write a negative review of a Chuck Palahniuk book?" Of course, why not?
"Because his books make so much money, to say something negative about them is seen as a sin against capitalism, an offence as grave as blasphemy. We must conform, we are told, and worship him as a god."
Who told you that? I'd advice you to stop soon listening to all those voices inside your head...
Being Chuck's publicist in Italy now I know how many unintelligent, sadly conformists, over 40 teenagers live in our unhappy country: more than 50.000. Bad news for our civilization, isn't it? Mr. Oswald Spengler wrote interesting stuff precisely about that: he was able to foresee Chuck's Advent more than 80 years ago!!!
Stranger than Fiction is so bad I could not put it down for days and days.
Chuck's universe is filled with the most weird stuff: castles, wrestlers, etc. etc. But what's really unique is his way of looking at things. With his usual alchemical skills Chuck is able to transform the weirdest thing into daily routine and to transform daily routine into the weirdest thing.
That's the kind of magic great writers are supposed to perform: to enlighten and to entertain.
So, read this wonderful book, discover your inner unintelligent child and celebrate the decline of the West!
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on June 17, 2004
From the author whose novels have always focused on people out of the mainstream, "Stranger Than Fiction" is a collection of essays/stories/articles that focus on real-life weirdos and other non-conformists.
- Demolition Derby drivers that crash around in farm combines.
- Amateur wrestlers trying out for the Olympics
- Men who build castles
- Disaster rescue people and their dogs
- etc...
While most of the pieces are very good, there are a couple weak spots, most of which consist of the person just talking and very little writing by Chuck. I am a fan of his writing style and would have liked to see more of that instead of those couple interviews. My guess is that they were just thrown in to fill out the book.
I gave it 5 stars because of those 6-8 pieces that I really liked (worth the book price alone).
If you like this book, check out "Fugitives and Refugees", also by Chuck Palahniuk. It is a collection of pieces and lists about his hometown of Portland, Oregon.
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on June 17, 2004
I am a huge fan of Palahniuk's work. Let's get that out there straight-away. That being said, there isn't all that much here, even for the die-hard Palahniuk fan. It's mostly work recycled from magazines and such, and much of that comes off as filler. Now collections are fine, but this one feels a bit too much: "padded out." There are, however, some great pieces here, some genuine "Palahniuk" moments, unfortunately they are too few. The candor one expects from him, the incisive humor, often seems missing.It reminds me of the MTV Real World intro: "Find out what happens when people stop being polite, and start getting real..." Here, we find what happens when Palahniuk does the opposite. Chuck, unexpectedly, is a little too polite at times here. Profiling some whacked out celebrities (Juliette Lewis), drunken cowboy combine demolition drivers, reclusive oddities inside their self-built castles... Chuck treats them with kid gloves.
Maybe it's his old journalistic "neutrality" kicking in, but even still, he isn't all that neutral. He paints a picture just enough biased to be less-than-journalistic, but not opinionated enough to really get the reader revved. It's all very factual, all very boring. The mordant, nihilistic, culture-effacing humor is often missing.
When he's talking about himself, his life and his friends, he seems to regain his license to range free. Here we find insights, humor and the sort of satirical commentary of modern life that one would expect from Palahniuk. Unfortunately, as Entertainment Weekly pointed out, it's largely insight from the Fight Club era and seems a bit dated now.
If you're a fan, there is enough you'll like to warrant the purchase price. There is some bio and some old-school Palahniuk riffing that will keep one going till his next fiction release. If you aren't a fan, this isn't the place to start. It's a scattershot amalgam of pieces that have no underlying connection and are more often than not less interesting than the strange fiction Palahniuk usually writes. He always says his novels come out of the stories he hears, unfortunately, those truly "stranger than fictions" did not make it into this collection.
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on July 17, 2004
Imagine if *talented* documentary filmmaker Michael Moore set up a tripod in a trailer park and just pressed 'record,' returning at the end of the day to claim the filled tape, you would have the first segment (titled 'People Together') of Chuck Palahniuk's new book, "Stranger Than Fiction," a nonfiction anthology. This first section might have you falling in and out of consciousness, as I was, with the author's description of boondock sex shows and combine demolition derbies, and...zzzzzzzz. Oh, sorry, nodded off for a moment. The second section, 'Portraits', is a series of blandly-written interviews with pseudo-celebrities (Juliette Lewis, Marilyn Manson, and a suck-up to Ira Levin, the only author who would write anything kind about Palahniuk's "Diary"). And the third section, 'Personal'--the most brief and interesting--deals with a handful of real-life experiences that have influenced Palahniuk's work (including the disturbing details of his father's death).
Unfortunately, this autheticity and interest enters far too late to have any chance of redeeming this flat, meandering book, which seems to have no rhyme or reason except to help Mr. Palahniuk pay his bills this month. The stylistic cleverness, sharp satire, and dark humor that punctuated "Fight Club," "Survivor," and "Lullaby" seems like a distant ghost Palahniuk has lost contact with, and it shows. I'm really beginning to wonder if the aforementioned novels were as great as I remember them being, and if I just wasn't swept up in the tidal wave of philosophical brilliance in "Fight Club" that caused me not to question the author's authority. For a while, Palahniuk seemed to be ushering in an era of renewed expectation for modern fiction, but with his increasing yearly output, it's becoming painfully obvious he's having a hard time keeping up. I'd rather wait five years for one well-developed narrative or memoir instead of receiving two substandard pieces of writing in a year. But like Marilyn Manson, Palahniuk's shock value has ceased to be shocking, his style has become predictable, and if he hopes to keep his fan base, he'd better concentrate on expanding his talents outward as opposed to keeping them confined, as he has with "Stranger Than Fiction." Another total letdown, redeemed somewhat by the last section.
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