Chuck Palahniuk does not like books with long chapters. “Most novels seem to space out any transformation over hundreds of pages,” Palahniuk stated in an interview before a reading held at the Penn Bookstore Oct. 7. “I want a plot point every few pages.” This should not come as a surprise for anyone who has read Palahniuk’s work. His first novel, “Fight Club,” became a cult hit soon after its publication in 1996 and is known for its discussion of controversial societal issues, its fast pace and its distinctive style. Reading Palahniuk’s work is much more akin to hearing a stand-up comedy set or listening to a beat poem than reading a novel; the narrative is rhythmic, dry and witty.
Yet Palahniuk is reluctant to call his work original. “I know who I rip off. All of the books are rip-offs of all of my friends, and my style is entirely a rip-off of [short story writer] Amy Hempel’s style.” But this has not impeded his success. Palahniuk drew hundreds of fans to the bookstore, making the event look more like a rock concert than a demure book reading. And rather than read from his book, Palahniuk opted to entertain the crowd with anecdotes about his writing process.
Palahniuk explained that doing research for his novels allows him to have adventures that he would not otherwise be able to have, such as helping a medical student friend of his cut open corpses.
However, Palahniuk never plans the development of the plot ahead of time. “My goal is to put together a body of knowledge for each character and set in effect an emotional dynamic that will in a way lead to its own conclusion. If you get it started right in that way, it completes itself in a way that you never could have imagined from the onset.”
Palahniuk’s latest novel, “Lullaby,” tells the story of a reporter who stumbles upon an ancient African “culling song” that has the power to kill someone every time it is recited. Strangely enough, the inspiration for the novel came from going to Bed, Bath and Beyond with a friend to buy a wedding gift. “My friend Ina started pointing out how one civilization’s sacred words or images or deities become the decorating motifs of the next civilization. And what if there was something that innately had so much power, that in being picked up and exploited, would destroy the people who exploited it?”
Palahniuk has already completed two books for next year: “The Fugitives and Refugees,” a “dark travel book” about Portland, Ore., and “Period Revival,” a “conspiracy horror novel.”
For more information about readings at the Penn Bookstore, visit www.upenn.bkstore.com on the Web.
Originally published on October 31, 2002