My name is Corey, and I am an addict.
No, not drugs or alcohol. Those, at least, I could get help for. No, my addiction is far more insidious, far more socially acceptable yet soul-crushing.
I am addicted to Chuck Palahniuk. I am a Chuckaholic. I’m mainlining the Chuck Wagon straight to Hell.
Yet I always finish them. And then buy the next one. And the circle of addiction continues.I can hear you scoffing, but seriously, this addiction is tearing me apart. Because like all junkies, I huff up and snort down my craving for pure ‘niuk despite not enjoying the highs I once craved. I simply can’t get off on the stuff anymore, yet I continually do rails of new Chuck no matter how low the quality.
And the quality has become very low indeed. We have come a long way from the addictive brilliance of Fight Club, Choke, Lullaby, and Rant, and while I still revisit his best to replenish my soul and sharpen my cynicism, I have not felt compelled to finish any of his novels since Snuff (and I’m an apologist on that one).
Doomed, at least, is a step up from recent misfires Pygmy and Tell-All, and succeeds in bettering Damned, his first entry into the lifedeath of snarky dead teenager Madison Spencer. Damned, the first blog-journal of Madison’s adventures in Hell, displayed glimpses of Palahniuk’s genius beneath the reams of scatology and grotesqueries, yet it too often read like particularly precise fan fiction; someone trying to write in the style of Palahniuk, yet not quite getting it.
Doomed is closer. Doomed is better. Doomed is not very good.
At the start, it appears Madison has managed some form of escape from the netherworld, now functioning instead as a ghost in the real world. While this appears a better option than living trapped in the scab-pits of Satan, Madison never met an existence she couldn’t whine about:
Not only do strangers look right through me; they also walk right through me. They don’t merely stumble into physical contact, or grope you. You’re actually penetrated. You commingle. You’re violated by the roving physiology of these shopping, eating, fornicating slabs of animated meat. You feel smeared and confused and vertiginous, as does the idiot predead person who’s just barged through you.
That’s some prime Chuck right there, a joyful mixture of language and sarcasm, leading me to hope for a return to past glories. Yet it was not to be, as Madison proves just as interminable a narrator as ghost than as tortured soul. Despite some intriguing ideas on what may actually get you a first class ticket to the searing flames of eternal perdition, Doomed is a drone.
It’s not that his novels haven’t all dealt with unpleasant people; it’s that his novels have increasingly become unpleasant. Absent is Palahniuk’s wicked humour, replaced with snarkiness galore. Gore replaces wit. Body odours take the place of characterization. His ideas are still solid — particularly a bizarre world-wide religious uprising that encourages obscenities and filth in place of civility, a religion that recalls the Vonnegutian tinge of his earlier works — but he can’t seal the deal. It’s all surface, no depth. It’s a shtick, not a novel.
In Madison’s idiom, Doomed, despite genuine flashes of Chuck of old, is CTRL+ALT+BORING. I’m tired of this addiction. I want to quit. Is there a patch available? Some form of literary methadone?
I can’t quit. I yearn for the rush. I believe there is some primo lit still out there, coursing through Chuck’s veins. I just hope he can someday tap it again.