by Veronica Louis
Authors to me are like über superstars. I would gladly wait in line for hours to meet my favorite author, but I’m not so sure I would do the same for my favorite musical act. So when I heard that Palahniuk was coming to Montreal in 2009 for a book reading tour to promote his book Pygmy, I was more than eager to purchase the book the day it was released and attend the event.
In real life, Palahniuk was a hoot. I remember him having a natural charismatic attitude and cracking jokes every other sentence. I don’t remember why, but the night of the book reading he was wearing a kilt. And he owned that kilt like a supermodel owns six-inch stilettos.
After the book reading I patiently waited in line to get my book signed, I was flushed with anticipation as my turn was approaching.
“Chuck! I love your books! All your books!” I gushed. “You are amazing!” I’m telling you… I was star struck. He was all smiles as he thanked me. “I want to write too,” I told him. And he told me that the trick was to write the way I spoke. That way, the result can reflect reality. I thanked him profusely for his advice. He signed my book, and I felt inspired.
As I walked away I opened the book to the page where he had signed it and it was as if a cupid arrow pierced my literary heart. In my book he had written, “To Best Future Rival Writer Veronica!! Write the way you speak.” True, there is the slight possibility that he writes this for all the other aspiring writers, but I rather not dilute my Palahniuk moment with such skepticism.
The first rule about writing? There are no rules.
That is if you are Chuck Palahniuk. You know how they say you got to know the rules to break them? Not only does Palahniuk break all the literary rules he manipulates them until they’re no longer recognizable. For example, in his book Pygmy, the main character, a teenage terrorist, narrates the book in his own shattered English of misplaced verbs, nouns, prepositions and made up tenses. Here is how the book starts, “Begins here first account of operative me, agent number 67, on arrival Midwestern American airport…” And the whole book is written in that style with the occasional censored and blacked out word.
I would argue that Chuck Palahniuk is a literary genius. And by genius I mean mastermind. His books are “Chuck-full” of dimensionality, his characters are unforgettable, and Palahniuk is in a league of his own.
I can’t even accurately pinpoint what genre his books fall into. They’re definitely fiction, with a mix of surrealism, satire, horror, eroticism and even tragedy. No surprise his books do not fit nicely into one category.
Some of Palahniuk’s books are more surreal than others. The way he can subtly infuse a layer of surrealism in many of his novels is something that I have never encountered before. The things that defy current science and reason are so well integrated in his stories that you almost start believing them like a Star Wars nerd believes in the “Force.”
For example in his book Lullaby, a seemingly innocent thing such as an ancient lullaby becomes a deadly and fatal tool to those who know it. In his book Diary, Palahniuk exploits the idea of the Stendhal Syndrome, the syndrome where people fall ill in face of extreme beauty.
Palahniuk also plays a lot with time. He jumps in and out of time as if the space and time continuum was something to be bended and meddled with. You’re not completely safe or anchored on the dimensional plane until the very last page where and when everything magically comes together and you finally have a bird’s eye view of the grander picture of how everything fits together.
Palahniuk’s characters are so excruciating real it’s incredible. They are so real to me, that after reading his books, the novels play out in my head as a movie. Furthermore, you never really have his characters figured out, because just like everything in the universe they are forever changing and in constant states of impermanence. You cannot take for granted what you think or know is real. Even at the end of the book you’re left with a “what-just-happened” feeling. It’s not that there isn’t resolution, it’s just that the resolution might not be what you expect, and you feel as if the story goes on beyond the last page of the book.
All in all, I think Palahniuk has the touch, that special gift that is endowed upon a minority to move masses into shifting their way of perceiving things and thinking outside the box. Not to mention, that his alliterative name is amusing to say.
As I’m writing my own novel I find it increasingly important to read more and more. Every book I read is part of my collective muse. Every writer puts some soul into his or her work, and as I read I have access to his or her soul for a period in time. I have the greatest respect for those who can stimulate others just by the way they manipulate words. Words are merely a succession of letters until they are wrought into powerful tools of imagination.
So I have Palahniuk and hundreds of other writers to thank for inspiring me and awakening that creative spark within me that makes me want to in turn, share part of my soul with the rest of the world.
I heart you Palahniuk!