This was a rather strange choice for a beach read, but it was my first opportunity to relax and let my brain chill out post-MCAT, and I just so happened to be on the beach. Really, I think this book would have felt weird regardless of where I read it, but the disjunction between place and topic definitely added to the eccentric vibe I was getting. “Weird” was definitely the word that first popped into mind while reading this, but it serves as an effective filter to weed out the less-than-committed; my best advice is to accept “weird” as quickly as possible, and move on to the good stuff underneath. My thoughts on the book, in no particular order (feel free to read this post backwards or start somewhere in the middle or whatever):
I happened to pick up a copy of the “remixed” version of Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters, which is a version published several years after the original, and reformatted based on the author’s original intentions on how the book “should” be read. He explains in the introduction that the reader is free to “jump to page whatever,” and the chapters are shuffled in the remix version, with new chapters added as well. However, he does provide a roadmap through the novel, directing the reader to flip through in what ends up being the same order as if you had read the original Invisible Monsters from start to finish, excluding the newly added chapters all together. I suppose this reformatted version accomplishes his goal of obscuring the ending from the reader, but why bother adding new content if you choose to provide directions that bypass it anyways? To me, it seems sufficient to encourage the reader to choose her own path, and then leave well enough alone. By directing the reader to circumvent the added content, Palahniuk essentially undoes his own work, and in my mind, negates many of the reasons he had for publishing a second edition. But as we see in life, and particularly in this novel, to each his own.
Regardless of the order in which you choose to tackle this collection of memories, and regardless of the fact that I disagree with many of the stylistic choices made in the Remix, Palahniuk undoubtedly weaves a tale that becomes quite impossible to set down, or forget, once you’ve spent any amount of time meandering through its pages. Hence my late night conversations with these so-called invisible monsters – namely, the ones that hide by day and retreat at the first accusation of authenticity. The ones that shuffle through the solitude of your head when you are begging for anything to distract you from the horror that is your most selfish self. The ones that never really disappear, but you work to squash like bugs, often to no avail. The ones that no amount of shame will ever be able to disguise.
Give me pity.
Give me perspective.
Give me wisdom.
We see the narrator and protagonist experience all of this and several other unnamable emotions that Palahniuk somehow finds words for, as the former-beauty-queen-turned-real-life-monster battles both physical and imagined demons. A few take the form of her long-dead-but-less-than-dead brother Shane, her ex-lover-ex-fiance-still-half-lover Manus, her model-and-former-best-friend-turned-bride-with-a-shotgun Evie, and her simultaneous idol and imagined competition, Brandy Alexander. To even begin to try to explain the complex ties strung between these four would likely make anyone who happened to come across this post think I am absolutely off my rocker, so you’ll have to take my word for it and just pick up a copy. What doesn’t seem to work in any attempted explanation of this novel becomes magical once you crack it open. Seriously.
Ultimately, I think Palahniuk is most effective in his commentary regarding image versus self versus self-image. Spoiler alert: nothing is as it first appears, which is not surprising given that Palahniuk pretty much point blank states that we are all living, breathing, walking facades, challenging anyone and everyone to care to get close enough to see what’s behind the shroud. At some points, he might as well start banging it into our heads with his metaphorical hammer, but then you start to catch on and accept his stated truths. And then in case you don’t believe him, he proceeds to rip through the very facades he has created, leaving you to question everything you had accepted as truth in his world.
Unsettling is my word of choice to describe most, if not all, of this novel, and yet there is a deep satisfaction in what rings true once you reach the end/not-end. That is, if you can make it that far before the monsters get you.