Novelist Palahniuk (Lullaby, 2002, etc.) squires readers through Portland at its outlandish best.
The author moved to the city fresh out of high school, like others who went west and fetched up in the cheapest city they could find. “This gives us the most cracked of the crackpots,” says Palahniuk, citing a theory suggested by a friend, “the misfits among misfits.” In a city of the strange and fugitive, it stands to reason that there’d be many odd entertainments, and Palahniuk reports upon a mighty selection. In cool stride, he marvels at the oral storytelling talents of those before the eviction court, gazes at the world’s largest hairball (2½ pounds of solid calcium and hair), stands in awe before the holdings of the vacuum-cleaner museum, encounters the “spirit orbs” (“glowing balls of light that hover and veer”) of 58 messengers from the beyond, and recommends places to get lucky on the sex front, including the Dirty Duck Pub (“for you fans of big men with hairy backs”). Not all is peculiar: Palahniuk reminds us that Portland is a city of gardens, has a crack toy museum, and claims shops where you can get used clothes, used magazines, and chunks of recycled architectural details. But he’s far happier taking a ghoulish tour of the city’s fabled tunnel system: “Down tunnel after tunnel the rope pulls you past scenes of incest and torture. . . . [In] the pitch dark, a crowd of strangers rush the tour group, groping their breasts and genitals. . . . Did I mention the big legal waiver everybody signed?” Tucked into the proceedings are “postcards” from Palahniuk’s own experiences with the city: getting beaten as the victim of a wilding, for instance, or attending the Apocalypse Café, where “the idea is, we’re going to the first potluck after a nuclear holocaust.”
For Palahniuk, the more acute the angle the better, but his is another solid entry in the Crown Journey series, with its premium on deep-dish subjectivity.