Book Review: Chuck Palahniuk - Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread (2015)
For as much as readers love saying that literature changes lives, it only happened once for me: when I read Chuck Palahniuk's iconic novel Fight Club. I've fell in love with countless books since, but none of them actually changed my life. They just went on my bookshelf and assumed position there, dipping back down into the world of living every now and then like British royalty. So, Palahniuk's always been around. Last week, I surprised myself picking up his short story collection Make Something: Stories You Can't Unread, which I had forgotten on my unread shelf.
One thing that emerged from Make Something Up I thought was fascinating was Chuck Palahniuk's animal allegories. He narrates soul-crushing stories in that didactic way you do with children, using animals as stand-in for characters in How Money Got Married, Bought a House and Found Happiness in Orlando and Why Coyote Never Had Money for Parking, which had this bizarre effect of draining the identity out of the character. And without any character to latch on, their situation and the absurdity of their actions becoming really confronting, because these characters' only animal trait is their name. Otherwise, they're us or they've been us.
Another story I quite enjoyed was Zombies, which I thought maybe was the most Palahniuk-esque of Make Something Up, where kids get themselves electroshock from defibrilators. Not only these characters seek an adrenaline rush and a form of taoist enlightenment, but they're also warding off the upcoming anxiety of becoming an adult, which I thought was brilliantly put. I loved Cold Calling too, but perhaps it's because I've worked on the phone before. Chuck Palahniuk really nailed this lawless zone when the peddler is at the mercy of the person who calls and where a person's moral compass can become word of law in their relationship. I doubt you can appreciate the full beauty of it if you haven't worked on the phone, but it's fantastic.
As you can see, I kind of enjoyed Make Something Up, but it does have an important structural problem. The collection stretched Chuck Palahniuk's creative process a little thin, so that it becomes predictable after a while. Palahniuk will take an area of professional specialty, like massage or telemarketing and start deconstructing the understanding we have of it. Sometimes it's going to be a secret, instead of a specialty, like a new fad everybody needs to try. Chuck Palahniuk stories are almost always about people in-the-know of something special and facing incomprehension of the outside world. That works a lot better in a novel that it works in consecutive short stories.
Chuck Palahniuk is the closest thing we have to a literary superstar for the 55 years old and under. He didnt steal this title. He's tremendous storyteller who's obsessed by the world we live in and the things we have collectively stopped talking about. There's some of what he does best in Make Something Up, but it overstays its welcome a little bit and start coming off as mechanical at a certain point. It's a book you should definitely read one story at a time, while reading other stuff in between to better enjoy. Nonetheless, I was glad to renew with the author who had the most impact on my life.