Book Review: Stranger Than Fiction

Book Review: Stranger Than FictionCollections of short works are tricky things to review. I say this almost every bloody time I review one. The reason being that each story or article or piece is inevitably pitted against one another in terms of likeability, and by a law of averages certain ones swim while other sink. A talent-fueled tale, followed by an even better one, tends to devalue the first.

This is often the case with Palahniuk's 'Stranger Than Fiction'.

This book was on my radar for years. Someone bought it for me last Christmas and I finally got around to diving in. I dig Chucky P quite a bit, enough to cite him as a writing influence of mine. Generally, there is a mixed response to his books and subject matter, but I've always admired his minimalist style and the way he strolls through territory where other writers fear to tread. However, his shock and awe tactics can get a bit transparent at times. Like a lot of his works, 'Stranger Than Fiction' is no different in this department.

For example, the first story you encounter is called 'Testy Festy'. It's about the Red Creek Lodge Testicle Festival, and an all-out in-your-face collage of blowjobs, handjobs, and crude lewd public sex acts in a nudist campground setting. It's signature Palahniuk, acting as a gatekeeper of a story that will make a number of readers put the book down before they've gotten through the first few pages.

If you can get past that one, you'll be fine.

The rest of this collection of non-fiction shorts offers some incredible insight to Palahniuk's considerably different, sometimes slightly demented, world. The book is divided into three sections: People Together, Portraits, and Personal. There is so much variety to take in, but it does have its problems. And those problems will often boil down to what you personally find interesting or engaging.

I loved reading about the author's life in 'Personal', his trials and tribulations, successes and failures. Mostly, it's his own eclectic experiences with family, friends, loss, steroids, shitty day-jobs, sickness, and writing that I found most fulfilling. A lot of the 'People Together' stuff was pretty great too; a combine harvester demolition derby, a collection of American DIY castle builders, the wrecked world or amateur wrestling, uncomfortable life aboard a US nuclear submarine. These stories couldn't be more different from one another. The spectrum covered is as wide as it is odd and interesting.

But the 'Portraits' section was often a let down for me. I can't fault Palahniuk too much for this, as most of them were gleaned from interviews with famous folk, and an article can only be as good as its subject. Let's just say I didn't really care about Juliette Lewis before I read Chuck's article about her, and I certainly couldn't give a shit about her afterward. Ditto for Marylin Manson and a couple others. There were other slight annoyances, like the mentioning of "Brad Pitt" a little too often throughout the book or Palahniuk occasionally passing judgement on people or topics that felt a bit unfair, particularly in the face of evidence that suggested his conclusions were wrong or weak.

I think the people who will mine the most profit out of 'Stranger Than Fiction' are writers themselves. There is a lot we writers can relate to in this book, and it's always a treat to be invited inside a successful author's head to be granted insight alongside memories recovered/analyzed. If you're at all a fan of Chuck Palahniuk, 'Stranger Than Fiction' makes a great companion to whatever collection of his books you already possess.

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