Palahniuk (Beautiful You, 2014, etc.) comes roaring back from a stretch of experimentalism with 23 tales celebrating his ongoing affection for the macabre.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Chuck at his most hard-core; he spent the last few years toying with satire, working his way into the heads of female narrators and curating the twisted anthology Burnt Tongues (2014). Here, he makes it absolutely clear that he’s still the man who wrote “Guts,” the infamous story that made fans pass out at readings. “The Toad Prince” makes “Guts” look like a fairy tale by comparison. It’s the story of an enterprising young pervert who has infected his member with a fistful of vile diseases in order to launch a new era in extreme body modification fetishism. “Romance” takes apart traditional relationships with the story of a chubby dude who falls in love with a superhot Britney Spears look-alike who may or may not be dimwitted on a level approaching disability. There are some echoes here—“Eleanor” is written in a strange, imitative patois that strongly recalls the novel Pygmy (2009), and a trio of fables resembles David Sedaris’ Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. But the core stories are pure muscle. The book opens with “Knock-knock,” about a son trying to save his father from death with dirty jokes. The best (black) comedy comes from “Zombies,” which finds America’s gifted teens indulging in the hot new fad of taking a defibrillator to their skulls. The purest horror comes from “Inclinations,” which begins with an adolescent girl using her unplanned pregnancies to collect Porsches from her parents before delving into a catalog of horrors at a sexual reorientation camp for teens. For fans, the book has “Expedition,” which contains Palahniuk’s first hints about Tyler Durden’s true nature in advance of the upcoming Fight Club 2, to be released as comic books starting soon.
Pathos and panic and penitence from one of the darkest and most singular minds in contemporary American lit.