Invisible Monsters Hasn't Aged Well

Chuck Palahniuk is basically the literary Marilyn Manson. He's dated, relies a bit too much on shock, and he peaked fairly early in his career. Invisible Monsters was supposed to be Palahniuk's first published novel, but was supposedly rejected due to being "too disturbing" and wasn't published until after Fight Club became a huge success.

If you've read Fight Club, then you will have a pretty good idea of how Palahniuk works as a writer. He finds a few tics, some obscure facts that don't play that well in an era of Wikipedia, a loose narrative connected by long lectures. Invisible Monsters was re-released in 2012 with a Choose Your Own Adventure element of jumping around the book. It also has long sections of text printed backwards, with the clever idea of using a mirror to read the book. There's a long line of hipster 90's authors trying to subvert the ebook trends, but this might be a bit too far.

Skipping around the narration breaks the flow of the book. While writers like Burroughs can cut up their books and reassemble them into a psychedelic mash up, Palahniuk ends up making it feel like an album on shuffle. It's also odd that a pill popping transsexual grifting across America with a disfigured model just isn't as shocking as it supposedly was in the 90's.

As entertaining as "The birds ate my face" still is, the problem with transgressive fiction, or transgressive art in general, is that as time passes it just isn't all that shocking. The idea of a transexual running around the country with her faceless friend popping pills, feeding hormones to a prisoner, and rifling through open houses, probably seemed really edgy in the mid 90's. As were the pages of obscure sexual acts and prescription drug side effects.

This book hasn't aged well, though most of Palahniuk's work hasn't. He's a great writer when you're twenty, and the Wikipedia runs as monologues seem interesting. Granted he tries to up the ante in the new sections, turning the narrator into the madame of a disfigured call girl service. It's not terribly shocking, and it just seems like someone eating bugs for increasingly less money.

I stand by Survivor and Fight Club as two interesting novels, but after reading this I don't know if I want to go back and read them. I held Invisible Monsters up as one of his better books, and a highlight in Palahniuk's canon. So who knows, I might just be jaded. I do seriously doubt anyone who can hop on Reddit is going to find anything in this book remotely shocking.

Mike M

Mike M

I have written various kind of reviews for years. I currently write for Make Use Of. I used to write for Digital Entertainment News, Macgasm, and the Examiner. My day job is as an IT monkey. Follow me on Twitter.