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Chuck Palahniuk at Miami Book Fair: Fainting, Projectiles, and Guts

Chuck Palahniuk at Miami Book Fair: Fainting, Projectiles, and Guts
Photo by Sean Grant

Chapman, the biggest auditorium on the Book Fair grounds, was packed. It was a young crowd, pretty white for Miami, one might think they were in Austin or Portland. In Hipster-biblio-ville, there's plenty of plaid and an army of bespectacled soldiers.
 
Chuck Palahniuk walked on stage to a thunderous cheer. Wearing tight brown leather pants, he took in the adulation with a humble demeanor. "The world is filled with wonderful tales," he explained, "tonight will not be that."
 
Looking like a post-modern, skinny Jack Kerouac, Palahniuk explained how the night would transpire: first, a game, then a story, then a Q&A, and in conclusion another game. 

Oh Deviled Egg, Oh Deviled Egg -- Make My Dream Come True
How do you describe Nicole Swift (a Florida Center for the

Literary Arts staffer) walking on stage in a deviled egg costume,

throwing into the crowd 50-plus inflatable brain floaties, signed by the author, while Palahniuk himself was throwing out Three Musketeers candy

bars?!  "Blow your brains out!!! Go ahead blow your brains out!!" yelled Palahniuk.

And

then he started throwing out more candy bars with Rollie Fingers

velocity while the audience raced to fill up the floaties to win a

prize.

Zzziiip -- a candy bar flew by my ear, a subtle way to

keep the attention span of an audience. Fun?? Well, it sounds crazier

and more sensational than the reality--was it fun or Palahniuk's way of

taking away our breath?
 
Palahniuk Is A Romantic At Heart
After

a playful start, Palahniuk settled into a short story "Romance" 

(published in Playboy this year). The lights dimmed and he read for

about 20 minutes. The climax of the story involved a girl slapping a

dude in the face with a bloody tampon littered with baby pulp.  "Puppet show, magic trick " yelled the author, mimicking his character. It was totally a love story.

Guts
After

reading "Romance," Palahniuk begged the patience of the crowd and its

Book Fair organizers so that he could read yet another short story. No

one objected and he proceeded to read "Guts" for 25 minutes, which is

one of his most popular and perverted stories involving a series of

masturbatory accidents, carrots up the butt, rods in a penis, intestines

sucked out of a body by a swimming pool jet, you know--the usual fun

stuff.

The story made a group of 60-something Book Fair donors leave the room, not-surprisingly. It

also made -- and this is where things turned weird -- two people either faint or have

seizures.

The first occurred about 15 minutes into the story. In

the back of the room, there was a crash of chairs. Someone yelled

"paramedic," which stopped the reading and sucked the breathe out of the

room, yet no one moved for an awkward period of time.

 

I actually ran

back there. Turned out the kid was all right. He was laughing. I thought

he was faking -- although people near-him insisted it was real. And

then it happened again!! Right next to me, to a teenage girl an arms

length away -- she just started to vacillate and fell face forward.

What the fuck?!

Again the reading awkwardly stopped, we ran and

got the girl some water, and she was escorted out of the room. I caught

up to the first guy who fainted after the reading and asked him if he

was faking. By the absent vacant look in his eye, I could tell he

wasn't. "I was lost in the pool, man. I was lost in the pool."

Oh Deviled Egg, Oh Deviled Egg -- Make My Dream Come True
Nothing

out-of-the-ordinary in the Q&A: tell us about your

next project, any movies in the making, describe your writing schedule,

techniques, research patterns. Palahniuk threw more candy bars into the crowd, even hitting a woman in the head.

The

reading went about 30 minutes past schedule, and Chuck P. wrapped it up.

The Deviled Egg came back on stage and proceded to throw out a plethora

of inflatable hearts and skeleton. The crowd rushed the stage looking

to catch a projectile. It was time to go.

Epilogue
Later on in the evening, at the Book Fair after-party, I caught up with Chuck P.
I

asked him why he wanted to read a second story, and why "Guts." He

explained it was the last stop of his book tour and it had been years

since he was in Miami (2005) so he wanted to do something special. He

also said it had been years since he read "Guts" in public.

The

shy but extremely nice Pacific Northwesterner repeatedly expressed

interest in the welfare of those fainted. He spoke about not wanting to

take advantage of the effects of the story, which he said have made over

200 pass out. He told me to be careful about driving home drunk, even

though I was on bicycle.

And he also explained why he canceled judging

Fridays Literary Death Match, a fact that the NewTimes article for some

reason forgot to elaborate on. Palahniuk felt trapped at Bardot (who can

blame him, that venue is a sardine can) and did not want to stay

confined for a few hours with no escape path. Palaniuk came off as your

typical nervous hyper-sensitive writer - - god bless him.  

Palahniuk is to literature what Juliette Lewis is to film, Marilyn Manson

to music, Albert Camus to philosophy, Anthony Bourdain to food -- all dark

and isolated, every one of them sexy as fuck.

It's

hard to believe in a few months, Palahniuk will already be 50 years old. He

doesn't look it. And his work doesn't seem old. Plus his canon

connects to a youthful part of our collective conscious, that curiously

romantic yet sometimes jaded spirit some only feel when young, so eager

to rebel, so resistant to the suffering monotony of life. Aging. One of

history's saddest ironies is that great literature never dies, but great

writers always do.

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