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December 2, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | December 2, 2008 |

I am not a die hard devotee of Chuck Palahniuk’s work, but from the books of his that I’ve read previously (Diary, Choke, Haunted, and the nonfiction collection Stranger Than Fiction), his method of writing seems to involve holding up a funhouse mirror to all the ugliest parts of humanity and magnifying them a hundred fold. It’s a very distinct style, and a very successful one for him, but it makes it difficult to find a way to connect with his characters. This is where I found Invisible Monsters to be a stand out among the Palahniuk novels I’ve read. (Side note: if you would like to bored to tears, you’re welcome to request the paper I wrote using psychoanalytic theory to compare Diary to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” I got an A on it.)

Invisible Monsters begins at the end of the story and takes you back from there. There is no linear storytelling involved here, which is the best way to keep certain facts about characters hidden for as long as possible, and break up the back story of the characters enough that you get just the information you need to want to know more. The main character — referred to by many names in the novel, but for the time being I’ll stick to calling her Daisy — narrates the whole novel, and the narrative involves three distinct periods in her life. The first is her teenage hood, the second is her life as a model, the third is her life after the accident that left her hideously deformed and took away her modeling career, her fiance, and her life as she knew it. While in the hospital, Daisy meets an enigmatic transgendered individual who calls herself Brandy Alexander who immediately takes Daisy under her wing. What follows is an epic love-hate relationship between Brandy, Daisy, and their male traveling companion (it’s complicated) while they travel around robbing wealthy houses of drugs to sell or to poison each other with. The beginning of the book is the climax of this story line.

The other two story lines, while seeming intrusions on this main tale of larceny and drug dealing, are actually essential to understanding the different motivations of all the characters involved. However, you don’t know this until right at the end, due to Palahniuk’s masterful ability to keep you interested while holding back the information that makes it all come unraveled. I had nearly figured out one of the twists midway through the book, but there were still another two or three in store at the end that packed a nice gut punch.

The characters in Invisible Monsters start out as people you’re ashamed to admit you have things in common with. Daisy, Brandy Alexander, and the rest of the characters we’re introduced to are horribly self absorbed and selfish people. The more you learn about them, the more you see just how unloved and unlovable they really are, until the end. At the end of the novel both Daisy and Brandy have a kind of redemption that shows the reader that both of them are deeply aware of their own failings and fighting as hard as they can to overcome them. Daisy’s last act in the novel is a completely selfless one, she literally gives up her own life out of love for Brandy. By then the entire story has been turned on it’s ear, and no one character stays the same person that they were initially presented as and nobody knew as much as they thought they did. This novel was thoroughly engrossing, and had an extremely satisfying conclusion that manages to stay consistent with all the information given in the story.

And now the disclaimer: Despite having the happiest ending I’ve yet to read in a Palahniuk novel, this is still in the style of Chuck Palahniuk. This book contains graphic descriptions of plastic surgery (reconstructive and gender reassignment), an accident that leaves Daisy without a jaw, gay sex, slaughterhouses, and several other stomach-turning tidbits thrown in for funsies. You’ve been warned.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here. And check here for more of Genny (also Rusty’s) reviews.

Cannonball Read / Genny (also Rusty)

Books | December 2, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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