FICTION

Book review: Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk - modern parables

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 May, 2015, 11:10pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 May, 2015, 11:10pm
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Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread
by Chuck Palahniuk
Doubleday

In Chuck Palahniuk's world, knowing the truth is the same as eating a rancid, sweating cheese that smells like dirty sneakers.

The stench may be off-putting, but as Palahniuk explores in his latest collection of short stories, Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread, there's a certain freedom in looking past the lies we tell each other and accepting things as they are. The only trouble with that, of course, is that the truth often hurts, but in the case of that stinky cheese, reality is glorious.

"Monkey ate the cheese, yet she did not die," Palahniuk writes. "She ate and ate it. She never wanted to swallow, only to chew it, to grind the cheese between her teeth forever and to always savour it. She wanted to live forever so that she could eat nothing else. Worse than killing her, the cheese tasted - incredible."

Not everyone in his stories is so lucky. In scenes that are occasionally cringeworthy and hard to read, the author reminds us that bad things happen - to good people, bad people and everyone in between.

But these experiences are not without redemptive value. In Loser, a frat boy tripping on acid has a revelatory moment when he becomes a contestant on The Price Is Right. It makes him recognise the disconnect between effort and achievement.

Similarly, in Zombies, high school students choose to opt out of "a miserable life as a world-famous architect or heart surgeon" by self-administering shocks from cardiac defibrillators to their temples, effectively lobotomising themselves.

Many of the stories in Make Something Up feel a little like modern parables, with characters taking on animalistic or blatantly villainous qualities to remark on everything from relationships to racism to greed.

Thanks to Palahniuk's often shocking prose, the stories contain enough humour and raw emotion to draw the reader in. These certainly are stories you can't unread - and at times it takes fortitude to finish. But like that smelly cheese, once you bite, you'll want more.

Tribune News Service