Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Palahniuk: the king of transgressive novelists...

"The Missionary and the Brute" could rightly be categorized as being 'transgressive fiction'. It is an unrelenting look at the characters of a group of people interacting in a land that strips away all pretense to the bare-knuckle bones of raw intensity. There are few idealized characters, opting instead for rich portraits of people on their own journeys of suffering and turmoil. A few have devolved into beasts that contradict the strictures of a civilized culture that thus created them. In these ways it is transgressive and well in keeping with some of the other novels on our shelves thus labeled.

Labels, as always, are limiting and not completely accurate, but there are certain novelists whose work does indeed fall largely in this category. The king among these is Chuck Palahniuk. Bursting on the literary scene with the absolutely incendiary "Fight Club", Chuck's subsequent work has walked much the same treacherous terrain as that - his most famous novel. "Fight Club" is rightly deemed a classic. My gosh. It shines the harsh light of reality in the face of some aspects of our world in a unique and quite disturbing way. (Disturbing in a good way.) Boiled down to one sentence it can be summed up as 'we spend so much time psychically beating ourselves up that the act of beating ourselves up becomes the thing for which we beat ourselves up...'

Or something like that.

As much as I appreciate the sheer genius of "Fight Club", some other of Chuck's novels are equally as good in my eyes. "Rant" is a hoot of a read - complex, circular, harsh beyond harsh. Like "The Missionary and the Brute" there aren't any Disneyish/Pollyannaesque characters to be seen. Most all have observable, and deeply reckoned flaws of character. (You know, like most of us...) Same to be said for "Choke". Some of the characters are really what we'd deem as 'bad people' if we passed judgment on the fly. In Chuck's world, they inhabit a reality where despite their 'badness', they are redeemed by living within that badness in a strange moral order of his own making. We grow to hope for the best for them. We just wouldn't want them to be our neighbors - or fix our supper.

My favorite of Chuck's novels thus far (haven't picked up "Damned" yet) has been "Invisible Monsters". It is an amazingly constructed novel with only a handful of characters - and actually fewer than it may seem, teehee. I have written elsewhere that the writing within reminds me of a transgressive Kurt Vonnegut. The paragraphs are short and crisp, there is a playfulness with time and linearity (much as I have attempted in "The Missionary and the Brute") and enough repetition to be reveletory. Litanies are odd things in the hands of the masters - they seem to evolve before our eyes. What may seem repetitive at first, later becomes shorthand for a whole slew of ironic emotions. Great stuff.

People often ask me whose writing compares with "The Missionary and the Brute". Chuck is always on the tip of my tongue for that. Maybe it's the wannabe faction - that I desire it to walk the same gritty streets as do his phenomenal novels.

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