Ah, time for the annual Why Pete Still Loves Chuck Palahniuk Review.
To be honest, there were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book. I've read ALL...moreAh, time for the annual Why Pete Still Loves Chuck Palahniuk Review.
To be honest, there were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book. I've read ALL of his books other than the Kindle single Phoenix. I have my personal favorites of course. Doomed isn't a favorite, but there were certain moments of heartbreak and humor that made me happy. For me, a non-favorite Chuck Palahniuk book will always do more for me than a lot of other authors, whether it be on a pure enjoyment rollercoaster level or because I learn something about writing. He's done both, sometimes combined in the same packages.
The other thing about being a Palahniuk fan, to me, is basically signing up and letting him take you for a ride. He decides what that ride looks like, and that means the subject matter isn't always up your alley. But if you can let go of the idea that you want all of his books to have a strong anti-corporation, anti-religious message of some sorts, you'll be fine, I promise.
This book is fun. It's a good time. And if you're paying attention to this sort of thing the way you can when you really delve into a writer's works, there's some real playfulness with the writing and the ideas of how stories are told. There is a long portion told in flashback, and it's handled so smoothly that I had to flip back because I didn't remember the time travel, yet it was clear what was going on. He's got some of these things down so well that I think a lot of us don't appreciate it. It's like a great magician. An escape may only look easy because he's practiced it so many times, and any one else trying it might not be able to pull it off. But in some ways, that practiced ease takes away from the drama of the whole thing. So keep an eye out.
As for the yearly portion.
If I had to recommend a few favorites for people who have never read one of his books?
Okay, in no particular order.
Choke- I think that although Fight Club is the favorite for a lot, to me this will always be his masterpiece. I think that for a long time, what I always thought attracted me to these books was the plots combined with a masculine appeal that you don't always see in modern fiction. But the more I think back, I think that what really brought me to the table without me knowing it was seeing these portraits of vulnerable, fallible men. Seeing these emotional wrecks gives a young man permission, in a way, to not have his shit together. Choke is the best example of that.
Lullaby- If you want a tight book with an appealing plot and just enough weirdness thrown in, I think this might be another one of Palahniuk's more secret successes. You'll enjoy the time you spend reading it even if it's not one of your absolute favorites.
Rant (audiobook)- This is a great success as an audiobook. Reading by a full cast really brings the fun and craziness of this book to light. I know this isn't a favorite for a lot of people, but I'm telling you, listen to the audiobook.
Fugitives and Refugees- Chuck Palahniuk's guide to his hometown. I had this book with me the first time I visited the city, and some of it is outdated, some still good. But it's the best travel guide you'll ever read, hands-down.
And this is the point where I recommend making the literary field trip. Probably one of the dorkier things I've ever done. Hear me out.
I know this is something book nerds have done in the past. It's not unheard of to visit...I don't know, the Prairie from Little House on the Prairie? If that's real? Or Green Gables. And while I wouldn't want to discredit the experiences of those people, because having just done a version of it myself I can say it's pretty changing, most of the literary field trips I've heard about in the past were basically to a place where the action seemed to involve tall grass and maybe an orphan begging for sludge food.
Although the place I went isn't a lot more palatable.
My trip was to the Wilhelm Memorial Mausoleum in Portland.
This is the spot where Chuck Palahniuk wrote for a while, and a few scenes from Survivor take place here.
It's somewhere I've wanted to go. It used to be state-run, but it has since been sold to a private company, which means that just any old person can't walk in there. Unless they have a relative buried there.
Of course, I have one there. Soooo none of this applies to me. But if you wanted to visit (and you're not going to be an asshole and take or harm anything in the building) I have a couple tips.
1. Findagrave.com is a quick way to find out who is buried where. In fact, you can look by site. Armed with this information, you have everything you need to put up a decent backstory regarding an interred relative.
2. Wearing slightly nicer clothes, bringing flowers, and walking in as though you belong there goes a long way.
The place is everything I hoped it would be. It's a maze of crypts and thrift store furniture.
There's a wet smell, the air and carpet damp depending on where you are in the building. There are bizarre memorials and letters to the dead taped up to the crypts. Everything from the personal, handwritten note to a printed clipart #1 Dad.
The place itself is quite fascinating too. It's a mishmash of class and the tacky. In the room pictured above, remains are stored in small boxes and kept in these wooden cabinets. Just above is a drop ceiling covered in brown water stains.
The elevator buttons themselves are a study in cryptic oddity.
The first thing you feel is how quiet it is. I saw one other person, a maintenance guy on a scissor lift.
Then you start trying to figure out where the hell you are. The building is part tall, part semi-underground. The 5th floor is the ground-level entrance, and each room looks very different, but it's almost like they want you to...browse.
I started to wonder if this was wrong. To come in here and take pictures. There was one crypt for a child with a note on it intended for other mausoleum visitors. The note was sitting on top of a pile of toys and read, "Please do not take any of my daughter's things. I wasn't ever able to give her anything like a Christmas, so this is all I can give her."
There's a guilt you can't help that comes around whenever you feel like you walked in on someone's private business. And things like that made it feel extra private. The difference between walking in on someone in the bathroom while he's just buttoning up as opposed to when he's in the middle of wiping his ass.
What I liked about the mausoleum is that it felt a little more alive than other burial sites. I've been to a handful, and for the most part they're deserted. Some are pathetic. There's a large one here in town bordered by the two busiest roads in town, and actual stones are forbidden because they're too difficult to mow around. So people choose to bury their relatives in the least peaceful spot in town, and they don't think that their memories warrant extra time mowing.
You could tell people were actually visiting here.
As cheesy and stupid as it sounds, for me this was a place that was alive. It was a place where one of my favorite writers wrote one of my favorite books. I'd just spent the last three days in a writer's workshop where he used to go, sitting at the same table, and this was the last little piece of my field trip.
So even if you have to go to a corpse storage unit, even if it means wrestling with a few issues regarding what makes you uncomfortable, you really should take the literary field trip. Go to your favorite author's version New York. Go to the place where your favorite book was written. If you don't know, ask! Email an author. There are some bastards out there, but for the most part I've had a lot of nice interactions with authors and found them to be very pleasant, kind people.
The biggest change for me in turning 30 is that I've become a huge weeping pussy bitch.
I'm sorry. I don't mean to use those words, and I don't mean to...moreThe biggest change for me in turning 30 is that I've become a huge weeping pussy bitch.
I'm sorry. I don't mean to use those words, and I don't mean to use them like that. It's just that when I think about the way I am, when the talk is all inside, the junior high boy in me tries to take over a little bit. Adult me knows these words aren't really supposed to be used like this. But the best adult me can do when the junior high boy is really raging is to at least pare the word "pusshole" down to "pussy." I'm trying.
I read most of The Chronology of Water in two places.
1) The bathtub in my apartment. Including lavender bubble bath. The store brand that comes in a giant bottle. It's bright purple. Pimp purple. Purple the inside of a porn limo purple. I don't know how much bubble bath to use. The first time I poured it in, the white foam spilled over the edge of the tub before the water got anywhere near the top. I'd never even thought about it, but I don't think I've ever in my life put bubbles into a bath tub before. I've been in bubble baths as a kid, but never concocted one on my own. I still don't have the ratio right. It's guess and check. I could ask my mom, but I don't really want to go pussy bitch in front of her.
The bubble bath is necessary. The bubble part, I mean. It cracked the code on sitting in the bath tub.
Here's the code: -You have to take your entire naked body out of the equation, just floating there. Bubble screen. -You have to start feeling the old where your body hurts and you're ready to let the warm water do something. Ready to wait.
Drinking a beer doesn't hurt either.
I sat reading The Chronology of Water in the bath tub more than once after the water went cold.
The other place I read a lot of this book,
2) A diner by my apartment.
This is where the weeping pussy bitch of a man really comes bursting out of the closet or the curtained bath tub or wherever he's been hiding.
Again, I'm so so sorry. For the pussy bitch stuff.
My mom has been making friends lately. We have breakfasts together, but the last couple of weeks she's had other stuff going on. This is good. It just means that The Chronology of Water has been my breakfast buddy the last couple weeks.
Which is how I end up sitting at a booth, old as hell couples at the booths around me, and I'm reading a book with a nude torso on the front, wiping my nose with the napkin, doing everything I can to keep a tear from busting right out of my left eye, the one that always cries first. Always. It's the one that sees better too. My eyes are different in the mirror, and the left is the one that looks smart. The sharp eye. The eye that stays closed in bright light. The crier.
Pick up this book and read the two sections starting on page 263. The ones about Lidia and her son swimming. All you need to know: Lidia is your storyteller, Miles is her son, Andy is Miles' father. If Lidia's words don't convince you to read her book, there's no way I can come up with words that will. Hers are the kind of words most of us spend forever and notebooks and notebooks looking for.
I read those two sections starting on page 263 twice. Two different breakfast trips, two different booths, same "French Combo" in front of me. Both times, same thing. With the crying. Almost crying. Maybe worse the second time.
I don't know what's happening to me. Or what happened to the me who wouldn't ever pick up a book like this, sure as hell wouldn't cry over it. Wouldn't cry over anything if he could help it, which he always could.
That guy, he's rinsed away. At least for now.
I didn't care for the way he talked to other people. Or the way he talked to himself. That was the worst part. Weeping pusshole bitchy bitch.
But fuck, he was reliable. He got me through everything that ever happened. He was the only guy who was there for me.
We'll see what happens without him.
Read this book. I mean it. The rock collecting, the bike riding lesson. It's all here.
I'll do my best to invalidate some of the criticisms I see of this book. Some people will criticize this book because they feel the storyteller's actions weren't always right. And that is true. If you're the kind of person who needs their storyteller to always be right, to always do the right thing, and if she doesn't it's always in service of a larger lesson of redemption, then skip this one. You won't like it.
Others put this into the category of books about abuse and drinking and drugs and sex and out of control college years. Again, that stuff happens. A lot. Before you throw it on that pile, let me say something here. You can categorize anything. I was talking about Cormac McCarthy's The Road the other day, and I said it was post-apocalyptic. Which it is, but I wouldn't put it next to any of the books in that category. It's not a post-apocalyptic book. That describes the setting, not the book. The writing is beautiful, and the emotion of the book has so much more value than the circumstances.
The Chronology of Water is the same way. It deals with all that shit, you know, life shit. The way it reads, that's the real power of it. Sometimes I think people will categorize a book because then they don't have to read it that way. Don't have to pay attention. Once you decide, you can stuff it away. Fight Club is about men punching each other. The Yellow Wallpaper is about a kook. Beloved is about slavery. There, done, easy. This review is about a book that a guy liked. Now we can get away from it. Make the escape.
Don't run away from this one. Don't put it in a snare that keeps it from chasing after you. Read it instead. In the bath, at a diner. If you're okay being a little weepy, that is. If you've accepted your pusshole bitch self.
In case you don't read it, I want to share a passage from the interview in the back. Good for anyone who cares about books.
Everything has been sucked up into marketing and celebrity and the almighty commodity- so if you are a writer, you are meant to sell something. If it sells, it has worth. But in my heart of hearts I just want to sneak individual books into the pockets of sad people. Or stuff pews with them! Because writing gave me a place to go and be and grow when I wanted to give up. And I'd like to jam my foot in the doorway so that others might find this place too.