I’ve mentioned before that I’m a Chuck Palahniuk fan, and I am really a little annoyed that my library still hasn’t recovered from the Great Move of 2015 and I can’t establish my epic shelf of cred in this regard. But hey, that might be a good thing, as Chuck apparently has a weird following of young white Americans who think he’s actually supporting their entitled subculture of race elitism. It doesn’t help that Palahniuk actually encourages this by owning the “snowflake” moniker or making it easy for conservative papers to wildly skew his edgy statements. Here he is choking a porn star. I wouldn’t call it misogyny when the lady is enjoying it that much though.
Palahniuk is easily misunderstood because of his outrageous style and throbbing, wet finger pressed shamelessly to the pulse of American culture. He isn’t afraid to write people who are racist or misogynist or who feel oppressed in their everyday life. Palaniuk says things in this book like “By the time you turn thirty, your life is about escaping the person you’ve become in order to escape the person you’ve become in order to escape the person you started as.” Come on. How can a middle-income snowflake who grew up thinking they would be raised above the browns and the blacks only to find themselves in their 30s working in a Dairy Barn NOT get behind that? Snowflakes are white, people. Palahniuk is a master of symbolism.
There, I hope I’ve defended him sufficiently for you to give “Make Something Up” a fair shot.
Like so many other film buffs in the early 2000s, I got into Palahniuk’s books with Fight Club and never looked back. I found my favorite early, with Rant, released in 2007. It’s a wonderful book about madness, time travel, driving irresponsibly, the common barbarism of the American suburbs, and the triumph of young love that survives being crumpled up by old age. Go get it, read it, realize we’re all Party Crashers going to work in dented cars, get wiser.
Released in 2015 by Anchor Books, Make Something Up is a short story collection, to my knowledge only like the second collection Palahniuk has ever made. It’s a shame, because Palahniuk shorts are often brutal, intense, and better than his novels. They’re short enough to taunt you with their outrage and end fast enough to leave poignant thoughts about what Palahniuk actually means. I’m only halfway through his stories, but already he’s covered the American rat race, the male obsession with our fathers, the lack of a future for the disconnected youth, and even the tricky topics of homophobia and class hatred. He breaks writing rules in the best way, and challenges us to question all the things we take for granted. There are so many good lines to choose from, but my favorite line so far is
“And I can’t expect such total happiness to last the rest of my life, and there’s got to be something wrong with me if I love my wife so much, and for right now I’m driving my new family home from the hospital with my beautiful wife sitting next to me and our twin baby girls safe in the backseat, and I’m still worried how happiness this great can’t last forever when Britney screams ‘Slug Bug!’ and her fist clobbers my shoulder so hard I almost crash us into a whole Dairy Queen.”
That’s so romantic, I want to cry.
Unlike Haunted, Palahniuk’s earlier collection, Make Something Up is composed of independent tales not linked by a larger novel narrative. Haunted is notable for containing “Guts,” the famous short that set audiences fainting when the book was first released. Make no mistake, the queasiness factor is not held back in Make Something Up. I almost thought I was reading something released early in Palahniuk’s career. There’s less propriety in this new collection and more straight shots to the issues in the collective unconscious. Issues like abortion, or inequality, gritty and polished so the blood shines all the more gruesomely.
Like his public image, its easy to think Palahniuk is romanticizing the sad fucks who populate his stories. But you can always count on his biting irony and ruthless hand of fate to deliver plot justice, and that’s where I think the appeal of Palahniuk lies. Yes, he shows us everything that we find disgusting and repugnant, but more often than not there is a moment of rest or redemption waiting for the characters of his stories. Preceded directly by some truly heinous shit, but hey, maybe that’s what Americans know we need deep in our guts. Some messed-up tragedy to scour us clean and leave us open and gaping for change. Maybe these stories can’t be unread, but maybe you won’t want to unread them.