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
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.
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.