Chuck Palahniuk almost killed me last night.
I wish I were kidding.
First, a little background: I had never, prior to yesterday, read anything of Chuck's. I'd always meant to, if only to win favor amongst the contemporary lit-ster crowd, who I imagine are probably standing around at this very minute drinking Pabst and talking about how much they'd like to bang Jonathan Safran Foer. To say that you enjoyed Fight Club: The Film but didn't bother to read Fight Club: The Book is to invite a certain amount of eyebrow-raising from the tapered-black-Levis-and-ironic-T-shirt set. And, I mean, I live in
So when I hopped on the subway yesterday to go home, I slithered into a seat between two other tired-looking professionals, opened Haunted to page 1, and started reading.
It was a slow start – halting narrative, choppy dialogue, unfamiliar writing style. But by the time I was making my transfer to the L train, standing on a platform jammed with tight-pantsed hipsters and feeling good about the street cred I was establishing via my public consumption of Palahniuk, I was totally hooked, having passed through the intro chapters and arrived at a new short story. It was called "Guts".
I'd actually heard about "Guts" before-- my friend Mardie had mentioned to me that it was intense, gruesome, and mind-blowingly graphic, to which my response was, "Awesome". Because-- and here's the rub of this whole episode-- I am NOT a weak-stomached pussy. As a kid, I loved horror fiction and weird-but-true stories of botched surgeries. And as an adult, I'm fascinated by disgusting and deformed things. Blood, gore, and intimate contact with dead animals do not bother me. What I’m saying is, I'd kind of established myself as somebody who would watch, read, touch, or eat ANYTHING, with gusto and without the slightest hesitation.
So, what happened next was unexpected and more than a little unnerving.
I was reading, waiting for the L train to arrive, tearing through the story at a furious pace. It was, true to Mardie's word, awesome and repulsive and utterly fucking disgusting. I’m not going to talk about the content of “Guts” -- first, because those of you who aren’t already familiar with it need only surf the internet for a few minutes to get all the information you need. And second, because I can’t bear to think about it.
Instead, I’ll just say that my vivid imagination, something which I'd always liked before, was working overtime to supply a never-ending stream of stomach-churning mental images based on what I was reading, passage after passage, and I was gritting my teeth in determination, forcing my way to the end of the story, wanting to get there before the approaching train arrived in the station… and then, I noticed something weird.
All over the page, words were disappearing. Entire blocks of text were being replaced, one by one, with bare, unprinted paper, winking out of existence as soon as I looked at them. Also, my head was burning. Also, I was starting to sweat profusely. A wave of nauseau hit me, I closed the book, I noted in a casual sort of way that I could no longer feel my fingers, I realized simultaneously that I could no longer see anything at all, and then...
Well, actually, I don't know what happened then. I do know that I woke up awhile later, with my cheek pressed against the cold, slate-colored floor of the
Nobody believed me, of course. Sitting on the train, I tried to assure my hero that I was perfectly alright and not prone to fainting.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go to the hospital?” he said.
“Yeah, no, I’m fine,” I said. He gave me a skeptical look.
“Are you sure? Have you ever fainted before?”
“Well, no. But I mean, I think I know why I fainted this time, and it’s fine,” I said, thinking, Please do not make me tell you that I passed out over a paperback.
“Are you sick?”
“No, I’m ok.”
“Well,” he said, cautiously, “Did you eat today?”
Suddenly, I was faced with a choice: allow my hero to think that I was anorexic, or suck it up and admit to being a victim of the Palahniuk Pass-Out. I folded.
“Oh, it’s not like that,” I said. “I ate tons of things. It was just, I mean, this book I was reading.”
“What do you mean?”
“Um,” I said. “Have you ever heard of… um…” I stalled, realized I had no idea how to pronounce the author’s name, decided to wing it. “Do you know Chuck Pa-la-nee-yuck?”
“Who?” he said.
“Er… Chuck Pa-la-hay-nyuck?”
“You know, that guy who wrote “Fight Club?”
“Oh. Um… well anyway, I was reading this book, and…”
“You got dizzy from reading the book?”
“Well, no, it was more like, it made me really upset, and, um…” I looked at my hero. He looked confused.
“You know what,” I said, “Maybe I didn’t have enough to eat today.”
1. A few minutes on the internet revealed that this story apparently caused at least 60-odd fainting episodes when it was read aloud during Palahniuk’s book tour. That’s incredible, isn’t it? The power of the written word, blah blah blah, but I have to ask—Could we get, like, a warning label? Something similar to the “explicit lyrics advisory” stickers on CDs, only this one would say, “Caution: Do not read this book while standing on a subway platform, a ladder, or the edge of the
2. Good Samaritan shout-out: I was way too confused and discombobulated to adequately thank my rescuers last night. They were: a darker-skinned man with round cheeks, a white shirt, and black pants; a girl with a green sweater, red lipstick, and ginger-colored hair; and, a man with black pants, sneakers, poofy black hair, and a little pink bike. (That bit about the bike makes it sound like I was hallucinating, but I wasn’t, he really had one.) If you are one of these people, or if a friend of yours has mentioned that they rescued a dizzy girl from death on the train tracks last night, shoot me an email and I’ll buy you a drink. I’ll throw in my copy of Haunted for free.