By Steven Yuen
Some people are of the philosophy that a reading’s not worth attending unless they’re sleeping with or want to sleep with the headlining author. I found this to be true when my now-ex girlfriend would essentially humor me by attending readings where I drunkenly fumbled my way through poems I would be embarrassed to even admit I wrote today. However, like the patient, good-natured human she was, she would always enthusiastically clap and chuckle at my miserable attempts at comedy.
Fast-forward a year or so, I found myself at a sold-out Chuck Palahniuk reading. (Let me assure you I am neither currently sleeping with nor have a desire to ever sleep with Palahniuk.) I had really high hopes for this event, and why not? It’s fucking Chuck Palahniuk! For those of you who do read, you shat a brick upon the discovery of the relationship between Tyler Durden and the narrator in “Fight Club.” To this day, when reading, I can’t recall a moment I’ve had that was as intense. It was a bigger twist than Bruce Willis’ character being a ghost in “The Sixth Sense.” Rightfully, more than anything else, Palahniuk is known for writing “Fight Club” and is relatively a well-known name because of it.
This popularity allowed Palahniuk to cultivate and retain a large, steady fan base. (I would know since I considered myself a part of it until I attended this reading for his latest novel, “Beautiful You.” To his credit, as a writer, Palahniuk has an audience that most wish they could have even half of. What they continue to see in his writing is something of a mystery, based on what I witnessed that night. Though I haven’t read his latest attempt at a sex-infused thriller – chances are I won’t – I was privy to his reading excerpts from it.
When it came to the actual delivery, I found myself rolling my eyes a lot more than most people. Palahniuk read off a story about a couple having sex in a car, using thinly veiled euphemisms such as “daddy juice” among other things I’d expect to come out of the mouth of a 12-year-old mocking a phone-sex operator. There was also a mention of Amanda Bynes, who has recently been on psyche hold and having full-on public meltdowns, in one of the stories; because mocking the mentally ill is a great tool to employ as a writer when you need a few forced laughs. You can endure only so many shock-effect stories with a guy rubbing hand sanitizer on his balls. (Yes, that happened in an excerpt that Palahniuk read that night.) However, it was interactive, as he invited fans to read on stage. Further, he created an impromptu game involving people writing on beach balls and glow sticks. The highlight of the night was when Palahniuk hit one of the beach balls out into the crowd, knocking off someone’s glasses – everything was halted while the house lights were turned on. This was unique, as I haven’t seen another reading containing all of these aspects – but how does this amplify the quality of the writing itself?
The whole experience left me with a really sour taste in my mouth. I expected so much from it but realized I had checked the World Series score at least 10 times amid the hullabaloo. Additionally, I left early because I had laundry to deal with. I obviously had some unrealistic expectations of his writing. Perhaps this stems from the experiences I had while reading his work in my high school years; but today I find myself to be driven to boredom by his writing. I was dumbfounded at the change of quality in his work. What allows a writer to go from crafting such beautiful monologues touching on the state of manhood and humanity to writing stories about young men painfully disinfecting their scrotums with hand sanitizer? Of course, there is novelty in how crass an author can make something, but Palahniuk was able to make that happen much better in “Invisible Monsters” 10 years ago. Now, I fully understand why people don’t attend readings when they’re not personally involved with the reader or can’t relate to the idea. You won’t be find me at a reading, unless I’m sleeping with or want to be sleeping with someone who is there.