Top critical review
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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.