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Book review: <i>Non-Fiction</i> by Chuck Palahniuk



If this was an autobiography, it would be effing awesome, but I’d also like to imagine that Chuck will always be too busy out there doing stuff to pen his own memoirs.

Cover

A tasty, blotchy black & white thing with a figure of a dalmatian-man holding a dog-eared (sorry) copy of Fight Club.

Plot

Journalism, interviews, and personal pieces from Chuck.

The good

This is tops. I’d put it up beside his better novels. It’s a lot more varied, in terms of material and pace, obviously, but also in tone, prose and approach. There’s straightforward, funny stuff from Chuck’s life, told in the conversational manner of Gaiman & King’s autobiographical pieces, if a little less garrulous – he still tries not to waste words, and the chapter on his favourite authors (I must look up Amy Hempel) and writing teacher explains an awful lot about his approach to writing, not to mention its strengths and weaknesses. It’s also a characteristically brave thing for the author to do; sure, there’s chapters about shrinking his nuts with steroids while bodybuilding, attending a Midwestern sex festival, and flying to LA to meet the stars of the film based on his debut novel after accidentally flaying his own head, but stuff like this is grist to the young writer’s mill, whereas talking barefacedly about attempting to duplicate his peers’ and mentors’ styles and laying out the rules of his favourite style (minimalism) in point form, unhesitatingly making plain the guts and bones beneath all his fiction without recourse to cod-post-modern wankery (Klosterman, I’m looking in your direction), THIS is the courage that makes Palahniuk’s writing so special.

He’s also been places and done things, and the urge is to compare him with writers like Orwell or Hemingway in his vitality, honesty and, often, male-ness. But it’s nobody else that makes this a fantastic collection – Hemingway romanticised bullfighting, Chuck manages the same trick for combine harvester demolition derbies. There’s masculinity here, but it’s not your father’s, football coaches’, or some screenwriter’s version – this is about essence, life, and the sheer breadth of what you can do with yours.

The bad

I would have enjoyed more personal stuff, although I am a fan, and the fan always wants entrée to the author above and beyond what’s really necessary to appreciate the fiction itself.

There are one or two flat spots…as with his fiction, occasionally Chuck’s reportage loses its messages beneath the volume of the voice used to tell them. But that’s also what makes this collection so good – it shows so many other talents of the writer, not least of which are subtlety, ambivalence and lightness of touch. When Chuck visits three different men who (almost compulsively, it seems) build castles, there’s real love there, a humane warmth that appears rarely in his novels, and demonstrates untapped potential - I still have faith that Haunted was a misguided fanservice pothole and that Palahniuk’s writing can retain its many charms whilst evolving further into something truly classic.

What I learnt

That for every thousand idle guys who’ve thought “I should do that one day,” some dude gave it a shot, and for every ten guys who gave it a shot, one guy kept it up until he got it right, regardless of expense, time or physical risk, be it building a hundred-foot stone castle with a wheelbarrow, ramming combine harvesters into each other, or wanking into Margaret Thatcher’s soup.

In short

Title: Non-Fiction
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 0224063022
Year published: 2004
Pages: 256
Genre(s): Autobiography, Journalism, 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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