A bland face nurtures a nimble mind: “Tell-All” by Chuck Palahniuk

The beastly girl can boast of no prominent cheekbones or Cupid’s-bow mouth; still, such a bland face nurtures a nimble mind.

In contrast, beauty which evokes special favors and opens doors, such astounding eyes can cripple the brain behind them.

Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk
192 pages; Doubleday; May 2010
Literary Fiction

I love Chuck Palahniuk.

Not at all related to him as an author, but as a person:

Probably five or six years ago, I stumbled upon a comment thread where they said, for a limited time, if you wrote Chuck Palahniuk a real pen-and-ink letter, he’d respond in kind. Well. When do you get an opportunity like that? So, feeling a little bit like a kooky fangirl, I wrote him a letter via his agent per the instructions. Haunted had just come out (which I’d loved, and also been repulsed by; seems to be the common response to that book) so I discussed that, among random other things. What do you say to a stranger whose work you really admire when you have to fill up something longer than a tweet, you know?

About a month later, my roommate was all, “YOU HAVE A PACKAGE ZOMG LOOK AT THE RETURN ADDRESS” and it was totally “Palahniuk” and we were like “WHOA ZOMG WTF” and inside were things like wax teeth and Silly Putty and some hand-burned CDs of his readings and a tiny Slinky and I totally still have the box, and there was a letter (and when I went back to the comment thread, people who’d been to his signings were like, “Yep, that’s his handwriting, he totally wrote all of these himself”) and then – get this – HE MADE ME A NECKLACE.

photo 2 photo 3

Yup. With little letter-beads that said his name and my name, but up where your hair goes so you don’t look like a lunatic. And it’s actually kind of pretty, and totally my color scheme. I’ve even worn it in public.

So, yeah. I like Chuck Palahniuk. I think he’s kind of awesome. BUT! Please do not think he has bought my love with trinkets; I liked him before he sent me presents.

I don’t know how I missed Tell-All. It was released three years ago. What was I doing three years ago, hiding under a rock? Good grief.

Although typical Palahniuk in some ways, this book just didn’t get to me like most of his work does. Based on some reviews I skimmed here and there, sadly, it seems a lot of people felt that way. I see what he was trying to do with it – and I always smile at what he attempts with his work, because he’s not one to sit on his laurels, he’s always trying something different and new and innovative – but the story of this one just kind of fell flat for me. (The conceit here was that all the famous people/brand names were in bold-face, so it read like one of those Page-Six gossip columns. I get it, it was a good idea, it showed how name-droppy their culture was…but it didn’t make it all that easy to read, and it got a bit exhausting after a while.)

(Side note: his latest work of fiction, however, did NOT fall flat for me, and I highly recommend it. And you can read it for free! He published a short story in Playboy recently, which is totally available online. You don’t even have to go buy a Playboy all embarrassed “for the articles.” It’s called “Zombie” and it’s really surprisingly touching, but also vulgar and violent and smash-bang – it’s a Palahniuk story, you guys, he’s not Mitch Albom, come on. I can’t recommend it enough, even if you’re only a casual Palahniuk fan. It’s one of my favorite short stories of the year.)

Tell-All is about Hazie Coogan, who takes care of fading movie starlet Katherine Kenton. It’s set in some form of the past – 50s, maybe? Early 60s? It’s not made clear, although I’m sure someone smarter than I am about such things could extrapolate that data based on the name-dropping of celebrities and when they co-existed. Katherine has moved from man to man in her life (she has dazzlingly violet eyes – perhaps she’s Palahniuk’s version of Elizabeth Taylor, perhaps not) and has recently taken up with Webster Carlton Westward III, who is much younger. Hazie is sure he’s only after Katherine to write a tell-all book about her after her death, so, as she’s done over the years, she puts in place an elaborate plan to save Katherine from yet another bad influence.

I think the problem was I couldn’t relate much to either Hazie or Katherine. Usually, even though they’re kind of horrible people, you can relate to Palahniuk’s characters – if only because they’re saying and doing things you’d only say or do in the silence of your mind because they’re just that foul. Hazie finally took an action, later on in the book, that made her somewhat relatable, but I think it was too late for me to really connect, which is a shame.

The writing’s good, as always. Not as sex-drugs-rock-and-roll as a typical Palahniuk – some sex, some drugs, some cussing, but compare it to something like Fight Club or Snuff and you’d laugh at how clean this is, comparatively. It just wasn’t my favorite of his. I liked it fine, but didn’t love it. Is it wrong I want to love every book I read? Probably. Don’t even care.

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30 comments

  1. Samantha

    Okay, that is so awesome that Chuck Pahlaniuk made you a necklace. That’s pretty cool author points in my book.

    I haven’t read a Pahlaniuk in a long time, maybe I should start venturing that way again. I’ll probably start with Zombie 🙂

  2. Charleen

    That’s really cool. It’s interesting how Twitter and the internet in general has made our favorite authors much more accessible… but there’s something about getting a handwritten letter and a package full of goodies that all the convenience of Twitter just can’t replace.

    • lucysfootball

      Totally agreed. This was pre-Twitter for me (not for everyone…I was very late coming to Twitter) but this is still one of the coolest interactions with an author I’ve ever had.

  3. earthandink

    Okay, first of all, I love the package thing. He’s so random and Portlandish and I love that.

    Second, I am happy to have a story to read. Thank you.

    Third, I haven’t read him, because he has seemed verging on horror ish to me, no matter what he says about transgressional fiction. Do you think that’s true or am I all screwed up?

    • lucysfootball

      I hope you love the story. Stick with it, even if it seems grim. I promise it’s worth it.

      I wouldn’t call any of his books horror except maybe “Haunted” or “Damned” (and those only marginally). They’ve got horror aspects. I’m never up on all the new labels for fiction (I always have to look things up – there’s always a new one! And I can’t keep track!) so I can’t speak to transgressional fiction. He probably knows more than I do…I think I’d just call it edgy lit fic? Maybe?

  4. wordsmith94

    Never read Palahniuk…where would I start? And that’s really awesome — I hope to be the kind of author (one day) who replies to pen-and-paper letters in kind, and even sends out packages to some of my fans.

    • lucysfootball

      It really was just the coolest thing, getting a package from him. I don’t know how many people saw that thread, or wrote to him – I figure in this day and age, there were quite a few – and supposedly he replied to all of us. I think that’s just awesome.

      OK, with much consideration, I’m thinking I’ll recommend you start at the beginning, where he did, with “Fight Club.” It remains my favorite (and a lot of people’s favorite – I know a lot of people stopped reading him when it became obvious he wasn’t just going to write “Fight Club” over and over, which is ridiculous, what author would even DO that?) If you haven’t seen the movie, wait til you’ve read the book, then watch it – it’s a brilliant movie, a little different, but still brilliant, and I think you’ll like having read the book first.

      If you like “Fight Club,” I’d recommend moving onto any of the following: “Choke,” “Rant,” “Pygmy,” or “Invisible Monsters.” They’re probably my favorites. “Haunted” is amazing, but save that one for once you’ve picked up on the way he writes, and you know you love him. It’s brilliant, but it’s so, so dark, and it’s going to punch you in the gut. (Anecdotally – it’s the book that, supposedly, made people pass out/vomit when he read one of the stories from it while he was on tour.) Don’t go into it lightly. I’m afraid it’ll turn you off to him if you do. (I love him, and was reading it on my lunch break at work in the breakroom, and had to put it down after I got to “that part” – it sincerely made me queasy. And I’m such a jaded reader. I couldn’t believe the power of his words over me.)

      The story I linked to in my review – “Zombie” – it’s not typical Palahniuk, so maybe save that for once you’re into him a little more. That way you can appreciate it more. (If you read it first, there’s nothing lost, but I think being a fan of his work, THEN reading it, you get a whole new level.)

      This is a very long comment. Whoo! Hope it was helpful!

  5. Cassie

    I’m kind of fangirling (my computer wanted to change that to fingerling, which is totally inappropriate) at the fact that Chuck P. sent you silly putty and a homemade necklace. OF COURSE that little man strings beads in his spare time. I would expect the same from Billy Collins, either that or he makes wooden Christmas presents. I love this. Sad the book wasn’t his best, but on the up side, this makes me want to read Haunted. YAY. You’re the bomb.

    • lucysfootball

      I don’t know, fingerling MIGHT be appropriate, if we’re talking about Palahniuk…or potatoes? Plus it totally made me giggle.

      If you read “Haunted,” we must discuss. I’m so curious if it hits you as viscerally as it did me.

  6. Meghan

    OK, I would need legit medical resuscitation if Chuck Palahniuk made me a personalized necklace. OH MY GOD.

    Loved ZOMBIE. Loved it. His brand-new one, Cannibal? I love you, Chuck, but I’ll never forgive you for that.

    • lucysfootball

      Ooh, I didn’t READ “Cannibal!” Found it online. Will read tomorrow because I’m just about collapsing with tired tonight. It’s bad? Or is it one of those graphic Palahniuk stories that hits you hard, but it’s also good? Hmm.

      I totally wore the necklace today. I was all, “I had it out for the photo! It goes great with this top!” and then had a secret smile all day long that I had a famous necklace on!

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