Chuck Palahniuk is one of the few modern writers who has caused as much controversy as he has done. His minimalist, repetitive style and bleak, amoral worlds can be hard to enjoy. He has said that he intentionally twists his prose to make it more difficult for readers to understand. Someone who doesn’t like Palahniuk is as likely to hit you if you throw a book across the room.
If you don’t know which of those groups you fall into because you haven’t read any of Palahniuk’s work, don’t worry. At least, don’t give up until you read his work. He’s as hard to love as he is to love, and even people who think he’s an underrated artist and a powerful postmodern literary force might admit that not all of his books are the same. If you want to get into Chuck Palahniuk’s books, you need to narrow down his list of books. Here are the 10 best ones.
Everyone knows about Fight Club because of the movie that was made in 1999. It’s Palahniuk’s best work so far, with sharp satire of modern society and a style that uses repetition and minimalism to great effect. Fight Club is the story of a troubled, unnamed narrator who becomes involved with underground, bare-knuckle fighting clubs and their charismatic leader, Tyler Durden. It does a great twist without really being about the twist, which is what makes it so good. What it’s really about is toxic masculinity and the psychological damage caused by a decadent society, which it tries to show with merciless black humor. A good litmus test to see if you’re going to like the work of Palahniuk is to look at this.
When a novelist starts a story with a man dictating into the Black Box of a plane that’s about to crash, he’s setting up certain expectations for the reader. The story has to be able to back up that kind of big, almost comical, story. If the reader can figure out the joke, Palahniuk does a good job. When a federal raid took place on a cult called the Creedists, all of its members took their own lives. Tender Branson is the last member of the group. To make the book more exciting, Palahniuk tells us how long it will be until both the crash and what the Creedists’ true intentions are.
Palahniuk’s writing is scary because he looks at the parts of us that we don’t want to see. He looks at the petty, scared parts that we hide from. Journalists who are writing about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) come across a nursery rhyme that kills anyone who hears it. Initially, the reporter tries to get rid of all copies of the rhyme, but soon he has the power to get rid of anyone who even a little annoys him. It’s like a movie from Blumhouse. The premise is silly, but Palahniuk makes it fun and dark at the same time.
Make Something Up
He likes short stories because they match his style and skills. He seems to enjoy drilling into a single point of pain. Palahniuk enjoys scraping through the terrible things he finds in his long stories, but in his short stories, the electric vibe of his excitement doesn’t have as much time to wander and fade away. It’s a collection of stories about things like self-abuse, sexual kinks, shame and loathing. But they’re written with razor-sharp prose and brevity, so you won’t be stuck in one of Palahniuk’s dark places for too long. If you’re not sure if you’d like a book by Palahniuk, try one of these short stories.
Some people say that he does the same thing over and over again: People who live on the fringes of society have weird ideas about how things work. They also have a sarcastic and mumbling narrator who talks a lot. That idea is shattered by Haunted. The group of want tobe writers agree to be locked in an old theater for a month to make them write. It’s also very well-organized, with chapters that alternate between the main story and short stories written from the point of view of the characters. The main story quickly gets worse as each member tries to make things more dramatic. It works very well and shows how good of a writer Palahniuk is at hiding from people. A favorite is the story Guts, which is said to have made a lot of people faint when he read it in public. This is true, because the story is about a teenage boy who uses a pool filter to try to have sex with himself.
Many of Palahniuk’s books use a story premise that shouldn’t last for a whole book to look at parts of society that you might not think of first. An attention-seeking model who gets so badly scarred that no one wants to look at her is the main character of Invisible Monsters. She is now completely invisible to a world that couldn’t look away from her before. A lot of the book talks about who you are, how you look, and what people think about the world today. It’s all written with a blistering rage under the words. This was Palahniuk’s first book, which was originally rejected by his publisher because it was too disturbing. If you want to read this, look for the “remixed” version, which is Palahniuk’s slightly changed and favorite version.
Palahniuk’s 2001 book is probably the most difficult one of his. A lot of people can’t stand Victor, the main character. If you go to restaurants, he pretends to choke on food to get free food. He is a medical school dropout who works at a history theme park. He goes to sex addiction group meetings with bad intentions, and his relationship with his dementia-stricken mother is hard to watch. All of this makes the book dark and scary. It’s also some of the best writing that Palahniuk has ever come up with. Victor, unlike many of Palahniuk’s other characters, doesn’t seem to know how bad his life is. This gives the story an unexpectedly poignant tone, and the low stakes keep the book more grounded than most of his other works.
If the idea of Snuff doesn’t scare you off, you might be a fan of Palahniuk’s work. Cassie Wright, a star of adult films who is going out of business, wants to make sure that her name will live on by breaking the record for the most sex acts in a single movie. One reason she’s so unique is because she likes to write about things that are shady and disgusting. The story shifts between three men who are waiting for their turn and Cassie’s producer, Sheila. Palahniuk talks about porn and its effects, as well as a very in-depth look at mother-daughter relationships. If you like or at least like Snuff, you’re Chuck’s people.
A lot of people rant. It’s a story about a person who spreads a mutated form of the rabies virus in a different world. In the underground, there is a group of people who stage car accidents so they can play out their roles. There are zombies in a story about Jesus that’s been changed. The story is crazy. In fact, it’s good crazy, because it lets Palahniuk explore the idea that myth and religion often start out telling one story and then change to tell a different one when the facts are changed and the main character mysteriously disappears after an accident. This is a book about ideas and how they can power movements and religions, even if they’re hard to understand. It’s full of ideas.
At 13, Madison, a girl, wakes up in Hell and has no idea how she got there. There’s no way for her to figure out why she died. The parents of Madison’s famous parents were lazy, so she has learned how to make her own way in any world she finds herself in. In hell, there isn’t much of a fight. If you read Palahniuk’s book, you’ll see that Madison’s boredom soon makes her one of the most powerful forces in Hell. In one of Palahniuk’s few truly fun novels, he says that some of the worst demons in history (like Hitler and Vlad the Impaler) can’t stand up to a spoiled tween girl.