From Publisher’s Weekly:
Chuck Palahniuk Knocks ‘Em Out Without a Punch
There are stories that make you cry. Others that leave you breathless. Some might even give you nightmares. But the short story Chuck Palahniuk is reading aloud on tour to promote his latest novel, Diary (Doubleday), is making people faint. That’s right, people literally have been rendered unconscious by the mere power of words.
It started in Portland and Seattle, and happened again Monday night, when two fell at Cody’s in Berkeley. “It’s the only book tour with a body count,” joked Palahniuk Tuesday, as the stricken fans were helped out of the room. The story is called “Guts” and it is from a collection in progress.
Had I not seen it for myself, I would have thought the fainters were faking. Here’s what happened:
Before diving into the piece, Palahniuk asks the audience to raise their hands if this is their first-ever book event. About half of the 200 or so indicate they are newbies. The crowd is largely the low-rise jean, tattooed variety–a new generation of readers reared on the gore of video games and movies, and one that’s hardly squeamish.
Palahniuk asks that no one record the reading, that it stay within these walls and can only exist outside by their retelling. “No one has any dibs on what goes on in this room,” he says. “Last night, the Santas came out and threw whipped cream at me.” (An event held by Booksmith in San Francisco drew a handful of rowdy fans dressed as Santa and demanding that Palahniuk buy them drinks. Author escort David Galia had to get a little physical to keep things in order and eventually gave them $50 to go and buy their own drinks.)
So, this story that is knocking people out is comprised of three different episodes about three 13-year-old boys and how their attempts at masturbation go horribly awry.
As with so much of Palahniuk’s work, the grotesque is laced with the hilarious, and the humanity of the work tends to draw the listeners in and unarm them. “Sure, this is gross, but it is also really personal, in the moment, and intense between author and fan. Really funny,” thinks the listener.
What throws people off guard even more is the delivery, coming from this very engaging man with a brilliant smile and twinkling eyes. How bad can it be? (Let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to take my mother to such a reading, but I’d sure love to take her out for milk and cookies with Palahniuk afterward.)
The moment of truth comes in the third story. In all of my years as a writer, I don’t think I have used the word “grotesque” more appropriately. I cannot tell you too much, because to know what happens takes away from the effect (not that this is something to be
savored, necessarily). Simultaneously, two people faint. A man and a woman, showing that the grotesque does not discriminate.
The author stops reading. “When this first started happening, I thought it was a fluke,” he says, as the fallen are comforted. “It has a happy ending,” he adds as the two woozy listeners are helped out. Although he is funny about it, clearly Palahniuk is not mocking his fans and seems somewhat in awe of the apparent power of the written
“It doesn’t help to know that it gets better,” he adds. “It also doesn’t help to know that it gets way worse before it gets better.”
Oh, he adds, these are true stories.
The spell broken, he continues. And it does get worse. And I am not exactly sure it ever gets better, but he has us laughing again in minutes. By the time he starts taking questions from the audience, the fainters have rejoined the event. He rewards questioners with prizes from his Halloween grab bag–fake tiaras, Santa hats, even handmade jewelry. The climate in the room is a little like a carnival.
“I read that people fainted at Dickens readings,” Palahniuk tells PW Daily after the event. “I never believed it.” Then he hands over another of his favorite door prizes, a mini bottle of Jack dans. And I think I will need it.
Palahniuk read in Los Angeles on Tuesday and heads out to Kansas City, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh. Booksellers might want to have smelling salts at the ready.–Bridget Kinsella
I’d also like to thank you guys for never showing up to my readings in clown outfits, demanding I buy rounds of drinks. Well, Ray and Blynch did, but they’ve been doing that since I was in Monks’ Night Out.