When the plot of your first novel partially hinges on anarchist overthrows funded by soap sales, and the narrative hook of your second work is the black box recorder of a jet moments away from slamming into the Australian outback, it stands to reason that your audience is going to be ready for anything. Which, to an author like Chuck Palahniuk, must sound like a challenge.
Palahniuk’s third identity crisis (that’s “novel” to you), Invisible Monsters, more than ably responds to this call to arms. Set once again in an all-too-familiar modern wasteland where social disease and self-hatred can do more damage than any potboiler-fiction bad guy, the tale focuses particularly on a group of drag queens and fashion models trekking cross-country to find themselves, looking everywhere from the bottom of a vial of Demerol to the end of a shotgun barrel. It’s a sort of Drugstore Cowboy-meets-Yentl affair, or a Hope-Crosby road movie with a skin graft and hormone-pill obsession, if you know what I mean.
Um, yeah. Anyway, the Hollywood vibe doesn’t stop these comparisons. As with Fight Club and Survivor, the book is invested with a cinematic sweep, from the opening set piece, which takes off like a house afire (literally), to a host of filmic tics sprayed throughout the text: “Flash,” “Jump back,” “Jump way ahead,” “Flash,” “Flash,” “Flash.” You get the idea. It’s as if Palahniuk didn’t write the thing but yanked it directly out of the Cineplex of his mind’s eye. Does it succeed? Mostly. Still working on measuring out the proper dosages of his many writerly talents (equal parts potent imagery, nihilistic coolspeak, and doped-out craziness), Palahniuk every now and then loosens his grip on the story line, which at points becomes as hard to decipher as your local pill addict’s medicine cabinet. However Invisible Monsters works best on a roller-coaster level. You don’t stop and count each slot on the track as you’re going down the big hill. You throw up your hands and yell, “Whee!” –Bob Michaels
I must say right up front that any book using the word ‘curlicue’ automatically gets two stars.
Having said that, Invisible Monsters is messed up on so many different levels. It is messed up on levels I couldn’t even imagine and can’t possibly explain. Forgive me for stealing from a Goodreads review, but this person said it better than I could. This is his entire review:
Quite possibly the most fucked up piece of literature I’ve ever read, this novel is a brilliantly executed train wreck from beginning to end.
He gave it four stars. Coincidentally, that’s what I’m giving it.
Again, forgive me… but I must…
PET PEEVE ALERT!
There was a time when Evie and me went out to dance clubs and bars… p31
Grumble grumble. And then he does it again:
Brandy and me found…” p155
I know it’s insignificant, but for me, it’s like nails scratching down a chalkboard… EEEEEEK! I might make an exception if the character would speak that way, but I do not get that sense in this case. I point it out when independent authors do it, so out of a sense of fairness, I have pointed it out here.
At this point, I must proffer a WARNING. I have a lot of family and friends who will absolutely, without a doubt, NOT want to read this book. So in deference to those I personally know, I say this with no judgment- If you do not like to read about loud gay sex in a closet (not metaphorical by the way, and nice touch Palahniuk), transvestites, transsexuals, PFLAG, different types of condoms, different types of venereal diseases, serious prescription drug abuse, arson, theft… who am I kidding, you probably stopped reading this review already.
Moving right along…
I would first like to make a couple of observations about the writing style. The author flat out states in the beginning:
Don’t expect this to be the kind of story that goes: and then, and then, and then… There isn’t a real pattern to anything, either… And you really, really need to get used to that feeling, here, on the freeway, at work, in your marriage. This is the world we live in. p18
I hate carving quotes, and rarely do it, but this one is really long and I want you to get a feeling of not only the jumping around but also the phenomenal writing. Palahniuk writes the way life happens. Even as he describes the way the story is to be told, he describes the way we live our lives.
The reason I bring this up is because Invisible Monsters constantly jumps back and forth in time. Be warned.
Also, there are times when I couldn’t tell if someone was actually speaking or not. For example:
I say, “Vswf siws cm eiuvn sincs.”
No, it’s okay, Brandy says. She doesn’t want to reward anybody for exploiting children. She got it on sale. p75
See what I mean? It would have been different if it had been written- Brandy says it’s okay because she got it on sale. She didn’t want to reward anybody for exploiting children- but the way it is written, doesn’t it seem like No, it’s okay should be in quotes?
This happens often. I had to re-read some parts to make sure I understood whether it was a thought or whether someone had actually said it. And then I wondered whether it made a difference. I was paranoid that if I didn’t figure it out, I would miss or misunderstand something later. As it turns out, it didn’t make much of a difference. Invisible Monsters is such a rollercoaster ride, this will be the least of your concerns. If you do notice, don’t spend too much time thinking about it:
No matter how careful you are, there’s going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn’t experience it all. There’s that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should’ve been paying attention.
Well, get used to that feeling. That’s how your whole life will feel some day.
This is all practice. None of this matters. We’re just warming up. p18
Wow. It’s almost as if he knew what I was going to write in my review…
…each of us thinks our role is the lead. p15
He did it again! Palahniuk is good. Excuse me a moment while I retrieve my tin foil hat.
As the Goodreads review and my warning already mentioned, Invisible Monsters is completely outlandish, and that is a serious understatement. I think most people will begin to read it and quickly grow annoyed at the outrageous an unrealistic situations. Unfortunately, that also means they will not benefit from the extraordinarily intellectual points that Palahniuk presents and satirizes. Just as Dostoevsky did, Palahniuk exaggerates to make a point. Here are a few examples of the phenomenal discussion topics, that some may consider to be hidden, in the story:
Besides, it happens fast for some people and slow for some, accidents or gravity, but we all end up mutilated. p26
Did you ever think about life as a metaphor for television? p53
“You can go anywhere in the world,” Brandy goes on and on.
You just can’t let people know who you really are.
“You can live a completely normal, regular life,” she says.
You just can’t let anybody get close enough to you to learn the truth.
“In a word,” she says, “veils.” p72
If I can’t be beautiful, I want to be invisible. p144
And this just scratches the surface. Believe me, if you can get past the shock value, you will definitely be rewarded with extremely intelligent issues, issues that could make you look at things from a whole new perspective. Invisible Monsters has the potential to inspire introspection.
I couldn’t wait to see how Palahniuk was going to end this insane and wild story and I was not disappointed. However, I will confess that I had a theory about the ending. I searched the Internet for support and after reading some comments by the author, it seems as though I am wrong. To that I say- I am right! The author is wrong!
You may have to think about the ending a bit before deciding what your ultimate verdict is. I had to sleep on it. I love those kinds of endings. It probably comes down to an individual basis depending on personality, outlook on life, etc. In the end, I think Invisible Monsters has a happy ending.
Why did I give Invisible Monsters only 4 stars? Honestly, I don’t know. It was a gut feeling.
I do recommend this book. Invisible Monsters was intelligent and definitely interesting, to say the least. And I shall end my review with the following question- What are your invisible monsters?
Reviewed by Christina
June 22, 2014