Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Phoenix

Rate this book
No author can shock readers quite like bestselling author Chuck Palahniuk ("Fight Club," "Choke," "Damned"), whose meditations on the darkest depths of the American ego have been known to induce fainting fits in his audiences. Palahniuk channels both Stephen King and John Cheever in this singularly sinister and hilarious short story, straight from the passive-aggressive front lines of modern marriage, where a wife's frustration, along with the family cat, become weapons of mass destruction.

Rachel married Ted because he was uncomplicated and loyal. But he was also devoted to his wretched house (done up in black granite, black appliances, even black dishware) and his first love, an old, flatulent cat named Belinda Carlisle. Once Rachel becomes pregnant, Ted reluctantly agrees to move and give up the cat. But the house doesn't sell, and Belinda Carlisle still haunts their home: every day the creature becomes fatter and more malodorous. When the house burns to the ground in a freak conflagration and the couple's daughter, April, is born blind soon thereafter, the marriage is never the same again. Only on a business trip three years later does Rachel begin to reckon with the damage.

In an Orlando motel room far from Ted and April, Rachel wonders: Is her simple-minded husband more vindictive and manipulative than even Rachel could have imagined? How far will she go to keep the upper hand—a bit of emotional and physical torture, perhaps? Will she win the battle, only to lose so much else?

If all is fair in love and war, there are few contemporary writers better equipped than Palahniuk to travel the extremes, right to the chilling intersection of "I do" and "I'm damned."

32 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 2013

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Chuck Palahniuk

164 books126k followers
Written in stolen moments under truck chassis and on park benches to a soundtrack of The Downward Spiral and Pablo Honey, Fight Club came into existence. The adaptation of Fight Club was a flop at the box office, but achieved cult status on DVD. The film’s popularity drove sales of the novel. Chuck put out two novels in 1999, Survivor and Invisible Monsters. Choke, published in 2001, became Chuck’s first New York Times bestseller. Chuck’s work has always been infused with personal experience, and his next novel, Lullaby, was no exception. Chuck credits writing Lullaby with helping him cope with the tragic death of his father. Diary and the non-fiction guide to Portland, Fugitives and Refugees, were released in 2003. While on the road in support of Diary, Chuck began reading a short story entitled 'Guts,' which would eventually become part of the novel Haunted.

In the years that followed, he continued to write, publishing the bestselling Rant, Snuff, Pygmy, Tell-All, a 'remix' of Invisible Monsters, Damned, and most recently, Doomed.

Chuck also enjoys giving back to his fans, and teaching the art of storytelling has been an important part of that. In 2004, Chuck began submitting essays to ChuckPalahniuk.net on the craft of writing. These were 'How To' pieces, straight out of Chuck's personal bag of tricks, based on the tenants of minimalism he learned from Tom Spanbauer. Every month, a “Homework Assignment” would accompany the lesson, so Workshop members could apply what they had learned. (all 36 of these essays can currently be found on The Cult's sister-site, LitReactor.com).

Then, in 2009, Chuck increased his involvement by committing to read and review a selection of fan-written stories each month. The best stories are currently set to be published in Burnt Tongues, a forthcoming anthology, with an introduction written by Chuck himself.

His next novel, Beautiful You, is due out in October 2014.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,023 (21%)
4 stars
1,868 (39%)
3 stars
1,492 (31%)
2 stars
318 (6%)
1 star
55 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 329 reviews
Profile Image for Nefariousbig.
121 reviews110 followers
August 25, 2015
Perfect. Palahniuk. Short. Dark. Unsweet.

REVIEW


CHARACTERS
Rachel - Mom
Rachel
Ted - Dad
Ted
April - Child
April
Belinda Carlisle - Cat
Belinda Carlisle

PLOT
Mothers are Insane

CONCLUSION
Jason

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chuck
Profile Image for Bill.
1,509 reviews104 followers
August 19, 2017
I love it when a short story fires on all cylinders. This one does. And I like cats too, but couldn't help laughing at this one’s fate.

When Palahniuk is on his game, he’s hard to beat. 5 Stars! And highly recommended.


Profile Image for Ananya.
448 reviews470 followers
March 15, 2016
I should be used to the Palahniuk brand of fucked up by now but time and again I end up surprised.

I read the short story between lectures and while I am not thoroughly impressed, I can appreciate how well Chuck P can delve into the dark side of the human psyche and put it on paper.

There were lies that married two people more effectively than any wedding vows.
Profile Image for Andrés.
77 reviews3 followers
August 7, 2014
So short, but oh-so good! Who knew the third person narrative, short story format, and Palahniuk's cynical style would provide such a... spark.

Well, I think we all knew but were starting to lose faith.
Welcome back to top form, sir. You've been missed.
Profile Image for Marvin.
1,414 reviews5,316 followers
January 24, 2014
I'm not a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk's novels. That is a little odd since I will concede that technically he is one of the best writers alive. As i have often said, he writes like a sumofabitch. Yet he is also unrelenting in his nihilism and creates characters that are void of passion and hope. The pessimism and feeling of existential void that permeates his writing tends to be overpowering. I don't think I have ever rated one of his novels more than two stars. It says a lot about the writer, and perhaps me, that in Fight Club, the only interesting and sympathetic character is the imaginary one!

But his short fiction is another matter entirely. In the shorter format, horrific elements play out faster. The shock of the plot (there is always a shocking plot) carry you through and you will find yourself riveted, maybe grossed out but, above all else, entertained. You will also have more time to figure out just what is Palahniuk trying to say and why did they let him out of the asylum.

Phoenix is one of those marvelous Kindle Singles. At 32 pages even the slowest reader should finish it in an hour. But it packs a wallop. It features a dysfunctional family and a strange, perhaps psycho, mom. She is away from home and all she wants to do is hear her blind daughter's voice over the phone. She seems to blame all her misfortunes on others which is never a good sign in a story or, for that matter, in real life. In an odd way, it reminds me of the great short story, The Yellow Wallpaper with the roles reversed. Palahniuk's short fiction is clearly horrific but stays with you like the throbbing pain of a hammer-smashed finger.

Perhaps one day Palahniuk may write a novel that gives me the same goose-bumps and dread that his short fiction does. But if you are someone like me who find his novels a bit too much, or a novice reader who simply wants to check out the king of gross, then Phoenix is a good way to put your toe in the muck.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,180 reviews
February 24, 2014
This short story is mad! It's like someone punching you in the face then hiding and laughing at your reaction - there is definitely a strange look on my face!
Profile Image for Sam Quixote.
4,424 reviews12.7k followers
March 17, 2013
It’s been a few years since I read something by Chuck Palahniuk all the way through, the last being his novel “Lullaby” in 2002 and then only just. Since then I’ve tried one of his books every now and then – “Diary” in 2004, “Haunted” in 2006, “Tell-All” in 2010 – and I’ll always put them down long before the end. Palahniuk’s style of brief statement-like sentences, fact dumps, and deadpan black humour, while fresh and exciting when first encountered, becomes tedious after a while and I abandoned his novels because it felt like his writing was permanently mired in style over substance, novelty over quality. The glory days of “Fight Club”, “Survivor” and “Choke” were over.

Which is why I was so surprised by “Phoenix” and found it to be an extraordinarily written and clever short story. Where had THIS Palahniuk been all these years? “Phoenix” is the story of Rachel, a wife, businesswoman and mother of a blind 3 year old daughter, on a work-related trip in Florida and calling home every night from her unpleasant hotel room where her neighbours are perennially having loud sex.

Told in the first person, Rachel recounts her married life before her daughter as we find out about her husband’s devotion to a cat she disliked. The cat got in the way of their starting a new life so Rachel did the only thing she could think of to change her situation…

Meanwhile back in the present her daughter refuses to speak to her when she calls so Rachel becomes increasingly desperate to hear her voice, resorting to increasingly despicable acts until the heinous finale.

Palahniuk’s Rachel is a remarkable creation - you realise while reading the story that she is completely insane. But Palahniuk somehow makes her seem not only human but makes her actions seem – not acceptable – but understandable from the narrative’s perspective. Looking back, I can’t believe how Palahniuk makes her actions seem natural and believable.

“Phoenix” is a brilliant story that is recognisably Palahniuk-esque but more sophisticated – finally, his writing style has evolved! It’s definitely the best piece of his writing I’ve read in over a decade and, perhaps due to its format as a short story, is an effectively shocking and compelling read. “Phoenix” is a master-class in short story writing and a return to form for Chuck Palahniuk. A must-read.
Profile Image for Bookschatter.
Author 1 book95 followers
January 26, 2015
I hate to admit it.  In 1999 I fell absolutely in love with Fight Club, directed by David Fincher; yet, up till now, I had never read anything by Palahniuk.

Phoenix is a short story (18 pages), told using third person narrative from the point of view of Rachel, mother of a blind three year old little girl who is at home with her husband Ted, whilst she is away on a business trip.
We follow Rachel's actions in the present, intermingled with her reflections about the past - about Ted, and about his cat Belinda Carlisle.  And thus we witness the steady unfolding of Rachel's psychosis, with all of its glorious dark undertones, and the twisted turns of the modern human psyche.  I can see why comparisons are made between Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho)

There was a good rhythm to the story, and the character of Rachel was well developed, albeit utterly dislikeable - I certainly could not detect any redeeming qualities in her.

We only saw Ted through Rachel's eyes, and through the happenings in the present. I ended up with mixed feelings about him - I could not quite decide if he was also despicable or if he was worthy of some sympathy.

Overall I did enjoy this story, but unfortunately it did address one of my pet-peeves: myths about cats and toxoplasmosis.
"Rachel hand't invented the dangers of toxoplasmosis; she'd gone online and built an airtight case.  This wasn't crazy talk.  Neurobiologists had linked T. gondii to suicide and onset of schizophrenia.  All caused by exposure to cat poop.  Some studies even suggested that the toxo brain parasites chemically coerced people to adopt more cats.  Those crazy cat ladies were actually being controlled by an infection of single-cell invaders.
    The problem with educating stupid people was that they didn't know they were stupid.  The same went for curing crazy people.  As far as the cat was concerned, Ted was both."

I felt the book affirmed old wives-tales and misinformation around this subject, which I found rather irritating and irresponsible.

***Warning: soap-box interlude***

For the record, toxoplasmosis infection (contracted when you are pregnant or within three months of conception) can cause severe birth defects including damage to the brain and eyes, and it is carried in cat faeces (NOTE: starting to worrying about toxoplasmosis AFTER you become pregnant is far too late!). HOWEVER:
   - Toxoplasmosis is very rare in cats, as they would only acquire it by eating an infected prey (rats, mice, birds) which means that it is impossible for indoor cats to carry this parasitic infection!
   - It takes one to five days for the parasite to become infectious, AND you would need to ingest the actual faeces! This means that even with outdoor cats, as long as the cat litter is cleaned promptly, using gloves or cleaned by someone else, there is absolutely no risk whatsoever of an infection. And if you are concerned about poop on the cat itself, just wash your hands well prior to putting them in your mouth or preparing food! (Doh!)
   - If you were infected with toxoplasmosis at least six months prior to pregnancy, you cannot be re-infected, and therefore there would be no danger to the fetus. People with a history of owning outdoor cats would fall into this category.
   - Toxoplasmosis can also be contracted by eating raw, cured or undercooked meats, goat's milk products, vegetables grown in soils which contain contaminated cat feces, and from sheep. Hence strict food hygiene is a must in any case.

In conclusion, if you contract toxoplasmosis whilst pregnant, it is your fault for not practicing adequate hygiene, not your cat's!

***End of rant***

Overall this is a worthy read, and a good introduction to this author. Although there was dark humour, I would not describe this story as "funny".

A word of caution if you are a cat lover, animal lover or someone who just loathes misinformation / witch-hunts... this story (as you saw above) made me rant. And that was before even getting to the part of this tale that deals with animal cruelty (which I can cope with in literary form)...

I look forward to acquainting myself with more works by Palahniuk, starting with Fight Club.
Profile Image for Doctor Gaines.
Author 5 books12 followers
May 26, 2013
I would call myself a once-avid-but-recently-disappointed Chuck Palahniuk fan (actually I would never take the time to use that term in a real-world conversation, but for our purposes it’s just right). I fell in love with Chuck’s ‘early’ work, and basically loved every novel he put out up until Snuff. Pygmy was a joke. Tell-All was boring, predictable crap. Damned was slightly better, but still not the Chuck I came to love (and Invisible Monsters: Remix was great but that doesn’t count as a new work). I say all that to lead up to this: Phoenix, while short, is Chuck truly back on top form.

It would be silly to summarize the plot because this one is short enough to be read in one sitting, but let’s just say it’s got all the makings of a Palahniuk classic: it’s dark, hilarious, sad, and bizarre. It involves one husband, one wife, one daughter, and (perhaps most importantly) one cat, each with their own quirks and odd tendencies. Chuck pulls his usual strings to pepper normal, everyday situations with very strange elements, as well as weave heavy meaning into the simplest of things. The ending ought to leave you satisfied, but not without being thumped in the heart and left feeling heavy for this fictional family and their broken condition.

Let’s hope Chuck is back to quality fiction like this.
Profile Image for Jason.
1,179 reviews252 followers
June 21, 2013
5 Stars

Wow, this is a dark, twisted, and sick look at marriage, life, children, and a bad person. This very short novella is witty and funny and times, while being very mean and cruel as well. This is a story about a very unhealthy marriage, a cat, and a blind daughter. I loved it!
Profile Image for Tania.
1,170 reviews266 followers
September 12, 2014
I always find Chuck Palahniuk's stories deeply disturbing, and this was no exception. In the short extent of a kindle single he takes us into the mind of someone losing their grip on reality.
Profile Image for Heather V  ~The Other Heather~.
338 reviews38 followers
February 10, 2017
And just like that, with the flick of a lightswitch, Chucky P has made me remember precisely what about his writing made me fall in love with it in the first place.

Pregnant women and cat lovers might want to proceed with caution, but anyone else - longtime fans of or newcomers to Chuck's storytelling - should absolutely take in this lightning-fast short story experience. Right from the first page you know it's all gonna go terribly, horribly wrong in the end, and that's why you're reading it. How Palahniuk manages to skewer marriage, parenthood, house ownership, minibars, The Shopping Network, insurance companies, cheap motels, Christmas parties, and The Sharper Image all in the space of about 30 pages, I cannot say, but good god, the resolution of this tale will, in all likelihood, have you reacting the way I did: a bout of uncontrolled laughter, followed by a slap of the hand over your mouth, because what kind of person laughs at such a thing??

Fans of Chucky P. That's what kind of person.

Read and enjoy. Best dollar I've spent since I was a six-year-old Dubble Bubble addict.
Profile Image for Raeden  Zen.
Author 12 books327 followers
March 31, 2013
Disturbing, Thought-Provoking, Short Story

Another entertaining tale from one of my favorite authors. "Phoenix" is a return to form for Chuck, who most fans would agree had lost it some in his last few efforts. So, in "Phoenix" what we're treated to is an American family that has gotten into a mortgage over their head and the drama that unfolds as a result. Rachel is on a business trip, talking to her husband Ted, and wanting to speak with their blind daughter, April. The dynamic between the three and the cat, the self-moving vacuum machine and the couple next door to Rachel at the hotel is at times hysterical and at others highly disturbing, especially the ending.

The bottom line: it's a short read that is sure to stick with you as you contemplate the condition of modern society, particularly in the US.
Profile Image for Matt James.
71 reviews3 followers
September 25, 2013
Palahniuk has been a source of diminishing returns for me. Rant was the last novel of his I really enjoyed and everything since then has been a slog to finish. Phoenix, being short and concise with it's devastation may be the new place he operates successfully. The characters are just as despicable and damaged as any others, they're given just enough pages to reach bottom without the room to get lost and repetitive.
Profile Image for Arianna.
380 reviews62 followers
April 17, 2013
Very Palahniuk. I enjoyed this. Gosh, he writes so well. Both his word choice and his story-weaving skills. Always so engaging. You kind of want to hate the main character for being a horrible person, but then you also kind of understand where they are coming from. (I started to write this about Phoenix specifically, but then realized that's pretty much EVERY Palahniuk novel I've ever read, haha!)
Profile Image for Scott.
107 reviews3 followers
February 27, 2013
I skipped the last couple Palahniuk books. They just weren't working for me any more. I think that the last one I *really loved* was probably Rant. I saw this Kindle Single, $.99, and decided to take a chance. I was glad I did.
Profile Image for Mark Wilkerson.
165 reviews37 followers
March 3, 2013
I have been hypercritical of Palahniuk lately; his recent novels have been extremely unsteady and inconsistent, and this has left me jaded. Because of his early success, though, I still pick up his stories, in hopes of finding the gems he does occasionally produce still. In reading "Phoenix," my expectations were admittedly low.

Maybe because of my low expectations, or maybe because Palahniuk was inspired (I can't tell the difference anymore), I enjoyed "Phoenix." The pacing issues that have plagued Palahniuk since "Choke" is still in force here, but the conflict and the mystery that he weaves through the story does keep it from falling apart and leads to a satisfying and fitting conclusion.

In spite of the pacing issues, this proves to be a fun story, well worth the short time investment that you will need to read this scrappy little fighter of a story. I hold out hope that his next novel, due out this year will mark a return to early form for Chuck, as evidenced by this.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,133 reviews61 followers
October 28, 2014
After Fight Club I went on something of a rampage through the books of Chuck Palahniuk which only ended once I got to Rant. Not many of Chuck's books since then have really popped up on my radar, but Phoenix makes me think it might be time for us to get reacquainted (in fact, I may need to read Survivor again)

A short story that took no time at all to read but stuck in my mind for a long time afterwards, Phoenix sees us visit the hotel room of Rachel, working away from home and checking in by phone with her husband Ted and three year old daughter April. Except April won't talk to Rachel, and as we learn through flashback of the fate Ted's cat Belinda Carlisle and their former home, this darkly funny tale builds to a disturbing finale.

**Also posted at Randomly Reading and Ranting**
Profile Image for Sonja Arlow.
1,063 reviews7 followers
January 26, 2015
Normally when I dislike the main characters it negatively influences my reading experience but as I enjoyed Choke so much (and THAT narrator was an egotistic sex addicted asshole) I was curious to try out this short novella.

The problem was that I just did not care about Ted or Rachel and their shaky marriage. The only thing that prevented this book from getting a 1 star was the antics involving Belinda Carlisle.

This was a very big miss for me but will try more of this author’s books, however perhaps not his novellas.
Profile Image for Michelle.
98 reviews16 followers
February 21, 2013
As usual I'm never a fan of books that have any kind of animal cruelty and this one is no exception. I did appreciate that the person committing the cruelty got theirs in the end ... makes it all a little better. Over all the book was good. Fast-paced and kept me interested. This is the first book by Palahniuk that I've read and I wasn't sure what to expect from him although I've heard that he can be pretty twisted. After reading Pheonix I am willing to give other books by Palahniuk a chance but I'm wary of coming across more animal issues ... we'll see I guess.
Profile Image for Joe.
7 reviews
March 6, 2013
There was a time when I thought Chuck Palahniuk was at the top of the writer food chain. I've grown up since then, and unfortunately, Palahniuk's writing hasn't aged with me. He's still following the same tropes and at this point, seems okay with just filling in a pseudo transgressive writing template. He wrote a companion essay about the writing of this piece and he hints at the intended emotional depths of this story that just aren't on the page. It would have been interesting to read that story though.
Profile Image for Alaina.
52 reviews14 followers
June 7, 2013
Wonderfully written, perfect length. After reading Lullaby a few years ago, I became hesitant to read more of Palahniuk's works. While Lullaby had some creepy, jarring moments, I was overall disappointed after reading the works of art that are Fight Club and Invisible Monsters, and the generally mediocre reviews I've been hearing. Phoenix has had the ability to rekindle my intereste in Palahniuk's writing.

An excellent work in dysfunction, conflict, and the lengths we'll go to in order to get what we want, Phoenix is a darkly humorous read.
Profile Image for Jeff Nash.
7 reviews1 follower
April 21, 2013
It's hard to call such a short story a proper return to form.

After suffering through Snuff and Pygmy (and picking up Tell-All and Damned, finishing neither), this is a short reprieve.

Maybe it's because there's a limited number of characters or the flash fiction format requires limited length. The claustrophobic, contained atmosphere? The ambiguity of what is actually happening?

In the end, I thought it was worth my 99 cents.
Profile Image for Gerhard.
1,026 reviews505 followers
October 19, 2013
Perfect little gem of a short story is not for cat lovers. Or for people who like children or happy marriages. This had me laughing out loud ... and then feeling guilty that such terrible events and human brutishness could elicit such a reaction from myself, a civilised and upstanding member of society. The ending is sensationally diabolical. Fuck it; read this especially if you are a cat lover.
Profile Image for Jason.
1,170 reviews103 followers
August 2, 2014
That was short, wasn't expecting that, I got the book as it was by Chuck, I didn't notice that it was a novella.

Very good twisted story about paranoia. It was nice to see a book featuring toxoplasmosis and that it can cause blandness.

At the end of the book it mentions that there is a movie in the making for Haunted really looking forward to that.
Profile Image for Bill.
236 reviews2 followers
February 24, 2015
Even though it was just a short story, this was really classic Palahniuk. He did an amazing job of winding themes of alcohol abuse, familial dischord, and the sheer gross-out shock that he specializes in. I read this on a borrowed Kindle, so I got do enjoy it for free, but I'm sure it's worth a couple of bucks if you have to download it somewhere.
Profile Image for Donald Armfield.
Author 64 books154 followers
March 5, 2013
Wow what a crazy bitch. Not for the animal cruelty people. The things Toxoplasmosis can do to children never mind a crazy woman who watches the home shopping network on mute.

A very hot kindle single with a great twist. Keep the hair spray away from Kitties.
Profile Image for Robin.
1,169 reviews2 followers
October 4, 2014
Okay, so I am a liar, and I have been for many years. I always said that I just hate writers who kill the family pet. This is such a sharp, mean story, though, that I barely even noticed the nasty old cat.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 329 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.