When I got to know that Chuck Palahniuk had dabbled his hands in the area of non-fiction, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. His journalistic nudges never left him, as is evident in the numerous details he provides in all his novels, sometimes on excess- a long list of cleaning tips or emergency procedures that are hidden in the dark. ‘Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories’ (STF) might not be Palahniuk at his best, since we are so used to seeing him place people in madcap conditions and watch them fight it out till the end. At the same time, with these stories, one can evidently see his writing style has been influenced by the likes of Camus and Foucault. His sense of minimalistic approach and writing short sentences that at times seem awkward at best is something he got from Tom Spanbauer – who taught him for five years, from 1991 to 1996.
“If you haven’t already noticed, all my books are about a lonely person looking for some way to connect with other people.”
This is rather fitting as even the pieces in STF involve some sort of connection between two or more people. Be it people trapped in a submarine or cheering collectedly at a Montana “Testicle” Festival, in all of his stories, he continues to maintain a keen eye for detail.
However, there are only nuggets of gold in these stories. A few that manage to rise above the others, and bravely capture the reader’s attention from the word go. The first piece is the rather raunchy ‘Testy Festy’, where one comes across the Rock Creek Lodge Testicle Festival happening in Missoula, Montana. With competitions like ‘Co-Ed Body Painting Contest’, ‘Men’s Bare Chest Contest’ and wet t-shirt contests, this story is easily one of the crudest ones I have come across. Another one that goes by the deceiving name of ‘Where Meat Comes From’ talks about people connecting on amateur wrestling circuits. In that one, the edge that the author has over writers via his journalistic instincts is very effective. At times within the story, it seemed to me that it had almost got heart. And that is something pretty hard to achieve in a nonfiction piece. ‘You Are Here’ is unarguably the best of the lot. Wholesome, one could say. It’s about writers at a Writer’s conference, you know, one of those things where aspiring writers have to pay multitudes of dollars – in exchange for the opportunity to pitch a story to agent and publishers. They are the ones who hope to make their stories big and blockbuster hits in Hollywood. Or on television sitcoms, as the case may be. But luck is hardly ever on their side.
In the end, I wanted to like the collection way more than I did. This is the kind of book which you tend to forget most of, even if it’s been a mere day after its completion. You might like this book if you are genuinely interested in the way people behave and interact. However, if you have better things to do, get lost in his other works. ‘Survivor’, ‘Choke’ or even the disgusting ‘Snuff’. That’s where his power lies.
If you find the book interesting, buy from Amazon or Flipkart here: