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Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories


Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories

A new Chuck Palahniuk novel usually promises biting satire, dark
humor and tragic reality rolled into one fun and often compact
package. So what does a Chuck Palahniuk collection of essays
promise? With a title like STRANGER THAN FICTION one would think
more of the same, only this time the stories would be true. And,
while in STRANGER THAN FICTION the stories are true, they not the
dynamic, interesting or shocking tales we expect from

Palahniuk asserts that the reason for writing these essays, as
opposed to his fictional work, is to connect with people. Writing
novels is lonely work, he claims, and his novels tend to be about
lonely people. With this more journalistic work, he was able to
write and connect to his subjects. However, it is a sense of
connection to subject matter that is lacking in the collection and
in the majority of the essays. Palahniuk gives his motivation for
writing in the introduction but often neglects the motivations of
his subjects. And it is the motivations of his quirky and ambitious
subjects that the reader would actually be interested in.

This collection is divided into three sections with the topics
becoming more personal to the author as they progress. In the first
section we find essays about people Palahniuk doesn't know but who
are in situations or circumstances, or engaging in activities, he
finds interesting. It is here we find wrestlers, castle builders,
and amateur writers. The very first essay is a raunchy account of
the Rock Creek Lodge Testicle Festival. Graphic and bizarre, this
essay, while purely descriptive without being informative, is
deceptive in that it seems to promise that the other essays will
also hold something stranger than fiction. But that promise goes
unfulfilled. In the essay "Demolition," Palahniuk talks to
participants in the Lind Combine Demolition Derby in Lind,
Washington. Typical of the collection, the subject is presented
with little context and little reason for the reader to invest. "My
Life as a Dog" is a very short piece but is fairly interesting, as
Palahniuk and a friend dress up as a dog and a bear and walk around
downtown Seattle. Here, he paints a funny and ironic picture ---
just what we expect from him --- and this essay works. Palahniuk is
at his best in STRANGER THAN FICTION when describing his own

The second section entitled "Portraits" is comprised of portraits
of a few celebrities and a few other pieces. Juliette Lewis reads a
list of questions she had compiled for an ex-boyfriend and Marilyn
Manson does a tarot card reading. One essay seems to be just a
dictation by Andrew Sullivan. Again, the essays are a bit out of
context and give the reader no reason to invest in the subject, and
raise no poignant questions or fresh insights.

The final section is the most personal and most interesting.
Palahniuk talks about his own experiences, especially those
surrounding his novel FIGHT CLUB being made into a film. He also
talks about the murder of his father. Here we find an inkling of
the satire, the humor, the pain, the disillusionment, the anger and
the intelligence readers associate with Palahniuk's work.

Overall, STRANGER THAN FICTION is disappointing because Palahniuk
is a much better writer than what we see in this collection. Most
writers are not proficient in more than one genre, and Palahniuk is
no exception. A future work of his fiction will definitely be worth
reading as he is one of the most original and enjoyable writers
today. And perhaps a sophomore nonfiction collection would be worth
reading. STRANGER THAN FICTION, however, is not really
recommendable. For thought-provoking, fun, original and personal
essays, readers would be better off reading the gonzo works of
Thompson, the quiet satire of Vowell or the insightful humor of

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 23, 2011

Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories
by Chuck Palahniuk

  • Publication Date: June 15, 2004
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385504489
  • ISBN-13: 9780385504485