Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Chuck Pahlaniuk's Guts

"For example, on a recent tour, Palahniuk read from a story called "Guts," about a boy who becomes ensnared in a swimming-pool pump while trying to masturbate."

Over at POD-DY MOUTH, Girl quotes from Chuck Pahlaniuk's web site, "Believe it or not, Chuck had to go through hell and back to land an agent."

Really? He landed one, didn't he? And a pretty good agent he must be, too. I'm amused how writers who've gone through the usual amount of toil-unless you have a Cinderalls story, which conforms to another pr template people love-act like they just made it off Omaha Beach. I haven't read Fight Club, and probably won't, as I'll explain in a moment. Maybe the reason that Palahniuk had so many rejections is because his writing is, well, shit.

There's a story about Palahniuk's latest book and the author hisself over at Slate. It references a short story by Palahniuk (“Guts”) that appeared in Playboy magazine, about a teenage boy who gets his lower intestines pulled out by the suction of the pool's drain while masturbating in his family's swimming pool. Never having read any Palahniuk, and curious because of his reputation, I read the story.

I found it to be a ludicrous, juvenile, vulgar piece of crap and an insult to the reader. If it's representative of Palahniuk's literary output, then it sure provides an example of a very successfull writer whose work belongs with PublishAmerica, where no one would ever have to suffer through reading it.

The Slate article describes his antics at his book signings. Let's say that they make those of James Ellroy, not known for his modesty or restraint, look like an Oxford professor's by comparison.

In a comment to me, Greg Blecha wrote, "I find his topics to be quite unsettling, but his literary style is rather sophisticated and elegant. If you haven't read Fight Club, I highly recommend it, especially before you form an opinion of his writing.

You could also make the same characterizations of Dostoyevsky, Kafka or Nabakov. Their subject matter may be repugnant, but their literary style is non pareil."

My objection to the story has nothing to do with the sexuality or the gore. The premise and actions, as described, are ludicrous. I live in a home with a swimming pool, and even if I didn't, I know enough about mechanics and anatomy to know that what happens in the story is physically impossible.

As for Palahniuk's literary style, the story didn't have any style worth noting.

Now, am I being unfair to Mr. Palahniuk by judging his entire literary ouevre from one story? Perhaps, but then, if this is a bottom-drawer effort that he's been able to sell now because he's a hot name, he has to take the responsibility for publishing it. He put his name on it, so it is representative whether he likes it or not. Conversely, if this isn't a weak story, and he actually is proud of it, then I can assume it fairly represents his writing.

At my age, with my disabilities, I'm very selective of what I'll spend my time on. I wish I had the less discriminating appetites of youth and the energy I once had. And, frankly, I really don't care whether I'm being fair to Palahniuk. Maybe I'm depriving myself of some great work, but then again, there are lots of established classics I have no inclination to read and never will. It doesn't bother me. Reading is an entertainment, not a cure for disease or a provider of moral uplift. The only way for any reader not to miss what might be a great book is to read far more than any one person has the leisure time to. Every choice made often precludes another. So be it.

6 Comments:

Blogger Justin said...

Hey...I indirectly came across your blog checking out someone else's whose I've come to enjoy and I noticed the denouncement of Chuck's writing. Well, I'll throw my two cents in for what it's worth...

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and this being your blog you obviously have the right to be the supreme voice here. I can't say that I agree with the, "I found it to be a ludicrous, juvenile, vulgar piece of crap and an insult to the reader." comment though, and would say that is the typical comment from someone who hasn't read Chuck's work, or enough of it to know one way from the other.

I have read all of Chuck's books, have seen and met him several times through events held at the college I graduated from, and am even a member of his fansite. However, I'm objective in regards to his writing. I agree that "Guts" isn't the best representation of his writing (although I did like it a lot more than most of the rest of the Haunted collection), Chuck Palahniuk's writing is not deserving to be referred to as "an example of a very successfull writer whose work belongs with PublishAmerica, where no one would ever have to suffer through reading it." I was changed by his writing. It helped make me love to read again. (The degrees on my wall are all in English--both writing and literature--so me saying this, at least for me, is saying a lot).

I first read Fight Club in a Modern Novel class in college back in 2000. I was one of the few who hadn't seen the movie first, and I was blown away by the book. Not only the subject matter--he was writing for a generation of men who didn't have anyone else writing for them--but his style. It's very McInerney and Ellisesque in that it's prophetic without making you feel that it's trying to be. Where most of the 'classic' writers all of us are force fed in high school and college drove my generation away from ever wanting to read something again, Fight Club helped pull us back. The language is concise. The subject matter is relatable. And the characters are people we know--maybe all too well.

In hindsight, having read all of his books, Fight Club ranks towards the bottom of the list for me in terms of personal preference. It's not even close to being as low as Diary and Haunted, but it's not close to being as high as Choke, which I think is brilliant. The subject matter of that book deals with everything from a former medical student running a 'save my life and pay me for your pity' scheme, to sex anonymous gone array, to rock collecting (nothing I can personally relate to) but I'll be damned if there wasn't a book that I laughed out loud at each and every time I've read it (which is multiple times), or enjoyed as a guide to get me out of personal 'writer's block' to inspire me to get back to writing, more than Choke. It's books like this that made it fun to read again. And I think that's a very important thing.

Sure, Chuck Palahniuk isn't for everyone. I think, in some way or another he should be, but that will never be the case. Too many people are offended by the thought of someone writing about someone's masterbation experience gone bad (especially with the current climate of this country's funked up sense of ideals/morals/whatever you want to call them) to take the time to realize or get to know the character who got his guts ripped out. This, above anything else, is why there is a divide with Chuck's readers and those who criticize what he does. It's not so much that Chuck's subject matter is offensive, or gross, or 'juvenille', it's that he writes about a side of life that people wonder about in a way that is accesible and interesting for people to dive in to.

(If this rant goes too long, is disjointed, or is filled with grammatical errors I apologize...the heat and humidity right now are taking their toll on both my body and my sense of coherent banter)

But I don't know...

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I respect yours. However, I think Gregory was right on with his analysis of Chuck's writing, and is a reason why I think perhaps that people such as yourself should take the time to understand why Chuck has become a success...the easiest way would of course be by reading more than a snipet of his material. As you yourself said, "Reading is an entertainment, not a cure for disease or a provider of moral uplift." Chuck's writing, for so many people has worked both ways. In addition to being great entertainment, in his own way he's helped cure a lot of people who had given up on reading, and indirectly gave them the moral uplift they might have needed in their life, and especially (as is the case with most of the people who are members of his site) their own writing.

I'm not a 'fanatic' fan of Chuck's where I think everything he writes is gold. But I do think that a lot of what he wrote is worth it's weight in gold. Not so much in terms of 'New York Times Bestseller' gold...but 'Getting People to Love Reading Again' gold.

But that's just my two sense...

That is rare among writers today. Among writers in any time.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

His tactics are tacky. It just goes to show just about damn near anything can and does sell. His work should give all writers hope in that regeard, unles that becomes the standard. Ooh boy if that's true. Gutter time.

6:59 PM  
Blogger Peter L. Winkler said...

"I agree that "Guts" isn't the best representation of his writing (although I did like it a lot more than most of the rest of the Haunted collection). I was changed by his writing. It helped make me love to read again."

You agree that "Guts" isn't representative of his best writing and then concede that "Haunted" is even poorer in quality. Either he is incredibly erratic or just willing to sell anything he writes now that he can. I'm glad you rediscovered your love of reading, but more stories like "Guts" will kill mine.

"Too many people are offended by the thought of someone writing about someone's masterbation experience gone bad."

I don't want to seem impatient, but maybe you didn't read my whole message. I wrote that explicit subject matter doesn't bother me. I've watched more than my share of splatter movies and I loved the film "Reservoir Dogs" when I first saw it.

Oscar Wilde said, "There are no moral or immoral books, merely good or bad ones."

I think "Guts" is a bad story. And it discourages me from investigating any more of Palahniuk's writing.

BTW, you say you aren't a fan of his writing, but you seem to have read everything he's written, and you repeatedly address him as Chuck

7:38 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

You said, "BTW, you say you aren't a fan of his writing, but you seem to have read everything he's written, and you repeatedly address him as Chuck"

This is what I said, "I'm not a 'fanatic' fan of Chuck's where I think everything he writes is gold." And I also did mention early on that I read everything he wrote.

If you're going to claim that I didn't read your entire post and took you out the context, then you repaid the favor and did the same to me.

Actually though, I did read your entire post the first time, and what I came away with orginally was that you said the content didn't bother you, but by calling it 'juvenille' in the next sentence, it more or less did bother you. If anything, it was an error on my end in reading more into what you weren't saying rather than what you were. That's my bad...and I'll take fault.

Getting back to 'Guts', I think overall it was a good story. Great? No. But good. And effective. I'm not grossed out by much, but that took it's toll on me. As for Haunted, no I don't think it's Chuck's best work. I think some of the stories are really good stories, but I think the linking mechanisms (poems and linking interlocking narrative in between each short) within the book weren't effective, were dry, and felt forced. That's my opinion though. A lot of people actually like it, and overall it has gotten some pretty favorable reviews. Not by me...since I finished it I was honest with my dislike for it as a whole. But that's just me.

The point I was trying to make was that being someone who has read all of Chuck's work, and admitting that I didn't 'like' all of it personally, that my opinion might be a little more objective, but still informative considering you were so quick to seemingly condemn his writing as a whole after one six page story where having read all of his novels, and being a fan (not fanatic) I could give my thoughts on good versus bad in terms of his overall spectrum of work, and maybe interest you in what I thought were worthwhile reads of his if you were so willing. Not convince you by any means, but offer up my angle to it.

But hey, I totally understand how big first impressions are, and I don't fault anyone for choosing to read one author, and liking/disliking their work versus not choosing to read someone else's work. As I mentioned the first time, Chuck isn't for everyone.

And yes, ever since I met him I have referred to him as Chuck, as pretty much everyone who has met him does. He's actually a very nice guy, well spoken, well educated, with a lot of really interesting/informative stuff to say. But that doesn't hold any real weight with me in terms of critiquing his writing--or anyone else's for that matter. I take writing serious enough to be completely honest with it. In total I'd say 2 of Chuck's books are passover material (Diary and Haunted) while 6 are worthwhile. For me, that's a good ratio. But for someone else, it could respectfully be the other way around.

To each their own.

(I like that Oscar Wilde quote as well (despite hating his writing). It's very true. And very fitting.)

10:00 PM  
Blogger Peter L. Winkler said...

"I'm not a 'fanatic' fan of Chuck's where I think everything he writes is gold. But I do think that a lot of what he wrote is worth it's weight in gold. Not so much in terms of 'New York Times Bestseller' gold...but 'Getting People to Love Reading Again' gold."

I apologize for jumping the gun. And I htank you for reading my blog and commenting.

I enjoy reading when what I'm reading is, in my estimation, entertaining. My enjoyment of reading isn't destroyed by reading something mediocre or boring. I don't need authors to jump start my interest in reading.

I'm glad that Palahniuk's writing revived your interest in reading. I'm glad that you enjoy reading (some) of his work.

I called the story juvenile. That's how it struck me. I know that a person's intestines can't be sucked out of their anus by a pool pump or through any other means. It strikes me as stupid, and I think that the combination of the masturbation and the gore is exploitative and designed to titillate readers with a peurile sensibility. The story struck me as something a twelve yeard old who gets off on scatology would bang out on his home computer and show off to his friends, or maybe submit as a writing exercise in class to get a rise out of his teacher. I consider that juvenile.

We obviously disagree.

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Joshua said...

Hey Peter,

My two cents . . . I will say that I've read a few of his books and of the stuff I've read, "Fight Club" is by far the best of the lot, it's a really good book - I didn't care for "Diary" or "Haunted" and because of the declining quality, sort of stopped reading his books (I did enjoy "Choke") - but for what it's worth, "Fight Club" is a really good read, in my opinion - tight and smart and with good ideas. I think he's running out of ideas these days, it could be.

I read a lot of books, it's my favorite pastime.

Of course it's always a matter of taste - I've been trying for years to get into Faulkner as that I have so many friends crowing about his artistry - but his voice is beyond me for some reason. But I love Kipling's "Captain's Courageous" and some of my friends are bored by it.

3:06 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]