Thursday, June 21, 2012

Stranger Than Fiction by Chuck Palahniuk

(pb; 2004: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

"Chuck Palahniuk's world has always been, well, different from yours and mine. In his first collection of nonfiction, Chuck Palahniuk brings us into this world, and gives us a glimpse of what inspires his fiction.

"At the Rock Creek Lodge Testicle Festival in Missoula, Montana, average people perform public sex acts on an outdoor stage. In a mansion once occupied by the Rolling Stones, Marilyn Manson reads his own Tarot cards and talks sweetly to his beautiful actress [then-]girlfriend. Across the country, men build their own full-size castles and rocketships that will send them into space. Palahniuk experiments with steroids, works on an assembly line by day and as a hospice volunteer by night, and experiences the brutal murder of his father by a white supremacist. . ."

Overall review:

Exceptional collection of essays - charming, risible, sexual, alarming, touching and otherwise mood-effective, about, as Palahniuk notes in his introduction, lonely people "looking for some way to connect with other people."

Stranger is as incisive, subversive and insightful as his novels, and any reader familiar with Palahniuk's body of fictional work will likely see direct links between his nonfiction and fiction.

This is a book worth owning - not only that, it's a book that bears re-reading*, at a later time, especially for writers looking to hone their characterization, research efforts and overall appreciation for ink-craft.

[*For those not familiar with my reading bents, I rarely re-read books (except if it's for site review purposes, and even then, it's not that often).]

Standout essays:

1.) "Testy Festy": Public sex acts highlight a controversial get-together, the Rock Creek Lodge Testicle Festival, in an otherwise conservative state.

2.) "Where Meat Comes From": Amateur wrestling, and its life-changing scars and results, are explored. Interesting study in an "underappreciated" sport.

3.) "You Are Here": Amateur screenwriters meet Hollywood pros, hoping to effectively pitch their ideas.

4.) "Confessions in Stone": The lives of three dedicated castle builders are explored - their successes and their failures, as well as their strange-for-modern-times learning (and castle-necessary) learning curves. (Echoes of this essay's facts can be seen in Palahniuk's novel Diary.)

5.) "Frontiers": Palahniuk experiments with steroids, with mixed results.

6.) "The People Can": Life on a submarine, in all its subversive-for-that-group nuances, is detailed.

7.) "The Lady": Palahniuk hosts a debunk-spooky-ghosts-bulls**t party in a supposedly haunted house.

8.) "In Her Own Words": Charming hang-out session/interview with Juliette Lewis.

9.) "Not Chasing Amy": Palahniuk, then an unpublished novel writer, attends Tom Spanbauer's writing workshop, where Palahniuk's education in craftwork is kicked up a necessary notch. One of my favorite entries in this collection.

10.) "Reading Yourself": Palahniuk interviews Marilyn Manson.

11.) "Dear Mr. Levin,": An open letter to Ira Levin, author of Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives and other entertaining, subversive works. This is another favorite entry in this collection.

12.) "Almost California": Palahniuk, visiting Los Angeles on book/movie business, has a small-scale, memorably disastrous day.

13.) "The Lip Enhancer": Palahniuk's lip plumping experiment goes wrong with amusing-in-hindsight results.

14.) "Monkey Think, Monkey Do": Subversive novels, Søren Kierkegaard's theories and man's propensity for destruction, self- and otherwise, are linked in an effective manner. Antoher one of my favorite entries here.

15.) "Now I Remember. . .": Hilarious, incisive take on memory, chihuauas and writing.

16.) "Consolation Prizes": Palahniuk writes about post-Fight Club popularity and ruminates about the sad and disturbing facts surrounding his father's murder.

Other essays:

"Demolition"; "My Life as a Dog"; "Why Isn't He Budging?"; "Bodhisattva"; "Human Error"; "Escort"; "Brinksmanship"

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