Books

Chuck Palahniuk's Memoir, 'Consider This', Is As Unsafe As His Fiction

Chuck Palahniuk has lived some amazing stories while he has written his much-consumed stories. As we're lead to believe, anyway.

Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different
Chuck Palahniuk

Grand Central

January 2020

Other

Chuck Palahniuk is about as well known as an author can be in our day. His books have sold in the millions, which for most authors is nearly impossible in our current literary landscape. For perspective, some 'bestseller' lists only require a few thousand copies to be sold for inclusion. His 1996 novel was produced into David Fincher's Fight Club (1999), starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Another novel, 2001's Choke, has been adapted for film by Clark Gregg, as well, resulting in the 2008 dark comedy/drama of the same name.

Let it be noted that people have literally fainted at readings of his short fiction. No matter what angle you take of his work, Palahniuk is a solid success as a writer, so a memoir of his writing life would surely prove interesting.

He graduated in 1986 with a journalism degree, worked for a newspaper for about a minute, but soon fell out of love with that profession. He opted instead to work as a diesel mechanic during the day and write and gain experiences in the evening. He personally failed multiple times, was rejected publicly multiple times, and finally 'gave up', as he's quoted, and wrote Fight Club, his darkest work yet.

In addition to that debut being a critical success, the eventual film version's cult status gave Palahniuk seemingly unlimited economic freedom to continue writing for the foreseeable future. Ten plus printed books later and he's still going strong, give or take the same levels of critical success. It took time and many twists to get him to this point.

Like his work or not -- which some people really don't -- he has a clear style. He takes the reader to unusual places; to basements with blood-smeared floors in Fight Club; into the convoluted mind of one of his least liked protagonists, Choke's Victor Mancini. He likes making lists that lay out the character's interests. He likes unusual settings and shocked reactions to said settings, and most glaringly, he loves very technical information placed in unexpected settings. Mostly, however, his work is minimal in style.

He often leads the reader on a journey through darkness that ends mostly without redemption, but sometimes, at least, his characters find acceptance. To read Palahniuk is to surrender control and let him take you where he desires -- a place you probably fear.

In his 30s, Palahniuk began attending writing workshops, but nothing really stuck until the workshops in novelist Tom Spanbauer's home. "Tom's workshops were different. We met in a condemned house he'd bought with plans for renovation. We felt like outlaws just by violating the yellow UNSAFE DO NOT ENTER notice stapled to the door," he writes. As can be guessed from the setting, it wasn't a regular workshop for Palahniuk, but it turned out to be about communing and challenges and growth and also, sometimes, cleaning up Tom's yard.

He still keeps in close contact with many of the writers he shared that table with 20 plus years ago. Reading Palahniuk's memoir, Consider This, it's clear these workshops helped shape Palahniuk into who he has become as a writer. Spanbauer was an advocate for a style of writing he called "Dangerous Writing", which clearly, Palahniuk has embraced.

Indeed, Palahniuk has been giving nods to Spanbauer since he began doing interviews.The reverence in which he speaks of his mentor throughout the memoir begats something bigger: knowingly or not, Palahniuk wants to teach, or at least wants to give others what Spanbauer gave him. That brings us to an important question to be answered when reading a review for a book: What kind of book is this? It's a memoir with writing tips thrown in the mix, or vice versa.

This man has some stories. He's basically a writer of experience, as hard as that is to believe, seeing as his books deal with the most twisted devices of the mind. Yet many of his wildest plot points have some basis in reality, and a few of these stories are laid out for us in this memoir with - what else? - writing tips. He starts his writing advice with a simple metaphor: "Think of a story as a stream of information. At best it's an ever changing series of rhythms. Now, think of yourself, the writer, as a dj mixing tracks." And then from there he gives us analysis of all of his favorite writing 'tracks': from "The Gun" to "Cribbing Authenticity…" to the oh-so-common "The Dead Parent."

Consider how he warms up his writerly imagination: He's spilled a truckload of severed limbs in the middle of the road. What does he do next? He's been attacked by a motorcycle mouse gang. How does he escape?

The gist of Consider This is this: Palahniuk lived through some interesting experiences while he was working on his stories. In his fiction, he takes real life and stretches and twists it with his imaginings. Reading his memoir is as much disturbing fun as reading his stories. From a writer like this, who cares how much is real and how much imagined? Come for the writing tips and stay for the stories.

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