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Book review: <i>Fugitives and Refugees</i> by Chuck Palahniuk

If this was a Lonely Planet guide to Portland, Oregon, it would be the SHEEZY.


A Vice-style night time flash photo of what I later learned is the Santa Rampage, an occasion where dozens of drunken revellers storm the city streets wearing the camouflage of identical Santa suits. I hope somebody’s doing that in Australia. Lift your game people! We can’t have Americans out-drunken-rampaging us!

The plot

A paean to Palahniuk’s adopted home of Portland, Oregon. Chapters outlining the best places to eat, stroll, get laid, see ghosts, etc., are interspersed with ‘postcards’; autobiographical fragments stepping forward chronologically from the early eighties when Chuck first arrives in Portland, up to the present. Well, 2002, at least.

The good

The postcards are just as great as you’d hope. From the story of our drunken author throwing the jar containing his tonsils off the balcony of his first share house as a sacrifice in exchange for his future status as a writer, each chunk of autobiography could easily have sprung from one of his novels, and really leaves the fan despairing for something more substantial about the author’s life. Then again, as I said in my review of Non-Fiction, it’s the vitality and lack of self-indulgence that makes Palahniuk’s writing what it is, and one really likes to imagine that he’s too busy living and creating to bother with a straight recount of his life to date. They’re such tasty morsels, though, these postcards, as you’d expect from the kind of guy who moves to the other side of the country from where all his friends live for exactly that reason. I doubt it was hurling a jar of pickled tonsils that made Chuck a writer, is what I’m saying.

The bad

I initially interpreted the title of this book as “B-sides and rarities”, if you see what I mean. Reading the blurb skewed my expectations in a more autobiographical direction, but still did not actually prepare me for what this really is, to whit, a Lonely Planet guide to a US city you probably won’t visit. It’s a good one, alright; it’ll make the place stick in your mind, that’s for sure, but frankly I can’t recommend buying this book unless you’re a Palahniuk completist, or are actually planning to visit the west coast of the States and might be stopping in at Portland. Unless you actually LIVE in Portland, of course, in which case, this would be essential. But, globally speaking, the chances are pretty slim, let’s face it.

Aside from that enormous drawback, it’s fine. The writing is as taut and effective as his fiction, at least in the postcard segments. There’s only so taut and effective you can be while relaying the opening hours of landscape gardens, and in fact these travel-guide-esque segments occasionally come distressingly close to a number of areas the author typically avoid like the plague—commercialisation, self-aggrandisement, navel-gazing, and capital-L Lifestyle writing. It’s only for a paragraph or two, but nonetheless, if you like Chuck’s books, I recommend reading this last. Certainly well after Non-Fiction, besides which this is but a shadow. Unless, as I say, you live in the author’s home town.

What I learnt...

Drunken Santa rampage!!! We’ve GOT to get a piece of that action over here. Gin + Tonic + Blue food colouring + Windex squirt bottle = A fantastic way to drink in public. Good work Santa!

In short

Title: Fugitives and Refugees
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: Crown
ISBN: 1400047838
Year published: 2003
Pages: 176
Genre(s): Autobiography, Travel literature, Non-fiction

This review was written by Tom Vaughan. Tom has his own website, which contains many other reviews and strips and art and other fun stuff here

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