Invisible Monsters

by Chuck Palahniuk

Published by W.W. Norton

297 Pages, 1999


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The Monster Club

Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley

 

Where you're supposed to be is some big West Hills wedding reception in a big manor house with flower arrangements and stuffed mushrooms all over the house. This is called scene setting: where everybody is, who's alive, who's dead. This is Evie Cottrell's big wedding reception moment. Evie is standing halfway down the big staircase in the manor house foyer, naked inside what's left of her wedding dress, still holding her rifle.

So begins Chuck Palahniuk's inspiringly original, intoxicating new novel about drug use, plastic surgery, and horribly disfigured fashion models.

Chuck Palahniuk is on the verge of something big. His first novel, Fight Club, was published in 1996 and has recently been made into a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. He's also the author of the critically acclaimed Survivor. Now comes Invisible Monsters, a wickedly daring novel, unpredictable, humorous and a bit disconcerting.

A beautiful fashion model has everything: a boyfriend, a career, a loyal best friend. Unfortunately she gets into a horrific traffic accident (or was it an accident?) leaving her disfigured and incapable of speech. It's a shame when a girl loses her jaw, particularly since her livelihood is tied to her looks. She goes from being the beautiful center of attention to the invisible monster referred to in the book's cryptic title. A hideous sight that no one wants to see.

Brandy Alexander is one of her friends. She's had so many plastic surgery operations she's nearly not of flesh and bone. She will teach herself and our jawless hero that we all must reinvent ourselves. That means erase your past. Make something up instead. Look to the future. Find out that your happiness lies in shadows you didn't even know were there.

Our jawless hero now must exact revenge on dear sweet Evie, a flawless fellow model. She must kidnap Manus, her two-timing boyfriend. She must hit the road with Brandy to create all new worlds. The climax includes a rifle-toting Evie and lots of blood.

As Palahniuk says, "Another thing is no matter how much you think you love somebody, you'll step back when the pool of their blood edges up too close."

Granted, this book is not for everyone. People take lots of drugs. Evie shoots at people. Blood splatters. Arson is involved. There's lots of ugliness everywhere. It's reminiscent of a Coen brothers movie; a Fargo or a Barton Fink. The characters are so odd and troubled, and the paths they choose in life parallel their emotional balance, that you have to laugh. You have to laugh when Evie's hair is burning, or when the jawless hero's gay brother's face blows up when he accidentally throws a can of hair spray in a burn barrel. You shouldn't laugh. It's horrible what happens to these people. It's disturbing. It may cause nightmares in small children. But you laugh out loud.

The jawless hero says, "If I can't be beautiful, I want to be invisible." Author Palahniuk is not going to be invisible for long and beautiful wouldn't be the first word that one would use to describe his writing style. But he is sharp, witty, clever, and devilishly humorous. He's about to make it big: blood, surgery, debilitating injuries and the whole lot with him. | November 1999

 

Jonathan Shipley is a graduate of Washington State University and the editor of the literary magazine Odin's Eye.