Don’t you just love it when the publisher decides to release a book under two different titles? For those in the UK and Australia, this book is call ‘Non-Fiction’. Everywhere else – it’s ‘Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories’. I can’t help but wonder if I should be personally offended by this – as if to say the US publisher believes Brits and Aussies will drop their jaws in dumbfoundedness, not being able to decipher the complex elaboration of more than one word. Reminds me of how when the first Harry Potter came out in the US, they called it ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.’ Did they think the Americans wouldn’t know what a philosopher was?
Since I live in Australia, I’m calling it Non Fiction for the rest of this review, and frankly, I think that’s a better title for it. Better to keep things to the point, and simple. Chuck’s name is an advertisement for the book enough.
I am now pleased to report that Non Fiction is a darn good read. Way, way better than the other nonfiction piece, ‘Fugitives and Refugees.’ That was a complete misfire. Non Fiction on the other hand, now holds an outright position as my favorite Chuck Palahniuk novel. Yes, I even this is better than Fight Club.
I had no idea whether or not this book would work, being a compilation of essays / articles / memoirs written in random sequence by Chuck, and according to chronology he hadn’t written a decent book since Choke in 2001. Lullaby was okay, but got silly in the second half, Fugitives and Refugees was incomprehensibly irrelevant, and Diary was just plain bad. Thank God then for this book, coming along, and pushing Chuck right back into form.
Being a compilation that we have here, you can judge each chapter / article on individual merit. A fair portion of the articles are actually mediocre, not bad, just random and uninteresting. After knocking it out of the park with a few early pieces, I wondered if the book would then subside into the same ambiguous territory as Fugitives, where Chuck hides behind his arty-farty wordsmithing, instead of being open and honest, and giving us a little insight about life.
This was the case, for some of the time, but Non-Fiction is a stand out book for the Palahniuk catalogue, in that it is the only one of his books that gets noticeably better as it goes along. Fight Club, also, I think had a strong finish, but Non Fiction does it much better.
It’s weird how he pulled this off, being these are out of order articles, that don’t really relate to one another, but the whole way through Non Fiction we are being built a subliminal picture of Chuck’s vision of the world, how it was formed and what the consequences are going to come of it. This really becomes evident when things really come to the boil in the last, shortest, and best part of the book, titled ‘Personal’. These are his autobiographical extracts.
When reading this book, I felt that Chuck began, as always, with his huge shield up, not wanting to let people in. And along the way this oh-so-subtlety breaks down, until the very end where he’s left sitting alone in a room with all his deductions he’s made from all the previous encounters in the book. Hanging out with a friend who owns a castle, wrestling fanatics, a party in a haunted house, dressing up as a dog for a day just to see people’s reactions… Then all the interviews with high profile celebrities including Juliette Lewis and Marilyn Manson, to his own ascent into fame, and the relentless nostalgia of Fight Club the movie.
We really arrive here with the author, and it’s a damn dark place to be, when he doesn’t seem to know whether his life is worth anything – how anyone’s life could be worth anything…
The only way to pull this off better would be to actually write a proper autobiography, but to pull out something so powerful, from a combination of standalone articles is a rare achievement.
And now a special mention to the third article in the book, ‘You are here’, which scores an easy ten out of ten for me. That one is about how everyone now sees their life as a movie, reducing their days into scenes, their past into prequels, and themselves into any famous actor or actress of their choosing.