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Reading Pathways: Chuck Palahniuk

May 12, 2013 | Mollie Hawkins | 2 Comments

Chuck Palahniuk disgusts me. Really. His writing is gritty, dark, and at times — downright gross. He’s casually known as “the guy that wrote Fight Club.” But I’m here to tell you, he’s worth a damn. Palahniuk’s writing is addictive. He’s a master of capturing raw human emotion, forcing you to view the world in different ways, and throwing hammers into your psyche that you just can’t pry out. And you will find yourself (surprisingly) wanting more.


I know you’ve always wanted to read a Palahniuk book besides Fight Club so that you can say you liked Fight Club but you really prefer his earlier/middle/later works where he was more gritty/fabulous/cryptic so you can sound really smart/cool/not cool. It’s daunting, I know. He’s a prolific writer with over a dozen books and counting. I heard there was a call for blog posts introducing readers to great writers, so I’m entering Book Riot’s START HERE, Vol. 2 Write-In Giveaway as an excuse to pollute your brain with a little more Palahniuk, a little less Eggers.



So I’m giving you, dear reader, the benefit and the bonus of not being one of my friends who shamefully whispers “I’ve always wanted to read his books, but I only saw Fight Club this one time at my auntie’s house while she drank grain alcohol and bathed the cat …” while glancing with melancholy at your library filled with anime and McSweeney’s authors. I’m here to help. I’m going to tell you what I tell my friends after I give them a hug: Start here. Read them in this order, and then you’re ready to conquer not only fight clubs, but also cults, sex addictions, colonial museums, real estate agents, rabies, life after death, dangerous art, and Portland.


1) Survivor – So, this is the first Palahniuk book I ever read. It’s a great introduction to his writing style: a chaotic event in media res, with a recounting of the events leading up to that point. The protagonist of Survivor is named Tender Branson, and he is one of the only remaining survivors of a Creedish cult that committed mass suicide. Tender lives as a faithful servant to a wealthy couple, and he knows a lot about getting stains out of clothes and household items.


Tender becomes somewhat of a celebrity after the mass suicide of his “people.” He’s okay with it, though — he has a hobby. His phone number is misprinted as a suicide hotline, and he regularly enjoys talking people not out of suicide, but into it, and it is after the suicide of one of his callers that he visits a cemetery and becomes friends with a girl: the sister of his “victim.” Eventually, Tender is believed to be a mass murderer.


Terrible, right? Trust me. This is a great book. It’s like the crazy dream you had that you can’t stop talking about the next day. I say it should be everyone’s first Palahniuk book if only for the fact that if you can’t stomach this one, you might want to go back to Eggers.


2) Choke – This is the only other Palahniuk novel to become a major film. I always recommend this to people because it shows how Palahniuk can go from dark to hilarious to satirical in one second flat. This novel is packed with hijinks from Victor Mancini, a twenty something ne’er-do-well that cons good Samaritans out of money after they save his life from “choking” in restaurants. He also works as an actor in a colonial-era museum — and all of this for the sake of his mother, who lives in a nursing home. She had this habit of kidnapping Victor from his foster parents when he was a kid.


Oh, and did I mention that Victor is also quite possibly a direct descendant of Jesus Christ?


Enough said.



3) Haunted – Seventeen writers walk into an abandoned theater … But really. I see this novel as a turning point for Palahniuk: instead of being pegged as a formulaic shock-value writer, with Haunted we see a collection of stories, all told through a variety of unreliable narrators, all of them writers on a “lock-in retreat” inside of an abandoned movie theater.


The thing is, these writers have plenty of food and utilities to survive for three months while their write their masterpieces. But for the sake of a better story, each writer sabotages the comfortable surroundings. Picture Lord of the Flies meets Dr. Frankenfurter.


Haunted is a great jumping point for any reader, because after this novel Palahniuk starts to write about the really gross stuff. Like vomit waterfalls and death by sex. If you can survive reading about cannibalism and horrible things happening to your intestines in swimming pools, you’re safe to read any Palahaniuk book ever written.




  • Never finished “Choke”, but it was bad translation, not the authors’ fault.
    I’ll follow the order you’re proposing, thanks for the advice!

  • Mollie,
    I so look forward to your blog posts. You are such a talent! I always want to read more. Can’t wait until the next.

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