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.
then he started throwing out more candy bars with Rollie Fingers
velocity while the audience raced to fill up the floaties to win a
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
Later on in the evening, at the Book Fair after-party, I caught up with Chuck P.
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.
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.
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
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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.