Palahniuk takes a break from his pitch-black, apocalyptic fiction (Diary, 2003, etc.) and spins a few yarns about real people—some not insane or suffering from a debilitating illness.
Unlike his novels, in which the human race is repeatedly pulverized for its conformity, groupthink, and general blankness, this collection of short nonfictions done for various magazines suggests that Palahniuk actually likes humanity—or at least some parts of it. This doesn’t mean he’s content with gentle sketches of quiet people who may be extraordinary in some understated, concerned, NPR kind of way. You’re more likely to find the author watching the sad spectacle of wannabe screenwriters paying for the privilege of pitching their little hearts out in a hotel ballroom to low-level movie producers (“This is something they’ve lugged around their whole life, and now they’re here to see what it will fetch on the open market”), or hanging out reading Tarot cards with Marilyn Manson. There isn’t much in the way of transcendent prose here; much of the time Palahniuk produces perfectly serviceable, high-grade magazine pieces, funny recollections of his Fight Club–era stint in Hollywood and so on, which keep readers flipping pages but won’t make it into any best-of-year anthologies. There are some powerful exceptions, though, like the short, bracing “Escort”: here, the author describes his stint as a hospice volunteer and says more in five pages about death than most novelists do in their entire careers. While every author hopes to connect with people through writing, most want the work itself to touch someone. Palahniuk aims his desire to connect in a different direction: he wants his writing to bring him into contact with humanity through the research that he does and the stories he uncovers along the way. Thus, “even the lonely act of writing becomes an excuse to be around people.”
Dolorous yet exhilarating dispatches from the edge.