Sunday, June 30, 2013

#CBR5 Review #29: Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk has some pretty interesting and insightful ideas about humans and the world we live in, but they are also pretty grotesque. “Maybe he should lighten up a little?” I think to myself. But then again, there is a demented humor to some of the biting things he writes and shows, which makes me wonder if the perversions experienced in this book aren’t strictly limited to these specific and wildly outlandish situations. Because I mean… they aren’t the crazy situations just heighten them or make them seem all the more dramatic.

Invisible Monsters is a story told by a young woman who is identified by various names throughout the novel. In the opening scene, we see a house burning down on the wedding day of a woman named Evie Cottrell, who has apparently just shot a friend of the narrator named Brandy Alexander. Brandy asks the narrator to tell her her story as she lies dying in the narrator’s arms, and from there the tale of the narrator (as well as Brandy) unfolds in a non-linear fashion, essentially jumping from memory to memory to get back to where the first pages start.

The majority of the novel focuses on the narrator’s life after she becomes disfigured when a gunshot rips the jaw off her face. The narrator has previously been a model, and now has to face life being what she refers to as an “invisible monster” (oh my goodness, she said the thing!), as few people look at her or pay her attention now that she is no longer beautiful. And that is basically what this novel is about when it boils down to it: the attentions we either get or don’t get, for one reason or another, and what we are willing to do to either garner attention or remain invisible.

As she recovers in the hospital, the narrator meets Brandy Alexander, a transgendered woman, who essentially takes the narrator in and gives her new identities and names as they travel around the country with another man with a fleeting identity. As more and more memories are visited, more and more connections between the characters and events are revealed, and shock-value is definitely something that this book is not short on, which makes the ride increasingly interesting and enticing. Though at some times, it almost feels as though all the inner-workings and connections being made are becoming a little too dramatic, or as though the planning was almost overdone to not feel all that organic anymore. In general, however, the jumps in time and realizations made make for both fun and intrigue (I sound like a cheesy back-cover quoted review now, don’t I?).

The complicated mess that is the story (as well as the manner in which it is told) is definitely the strongest selling-point to this novel: there are so many ideas and little things floating around, making it so that anyone can grab onto something from this book, despite the grotesque nature of it. Invisible Monsters really is a good book, but what keeps me from calling it “great” are just a couple of little sticking points. For instance, after such a huge clutter of relationships and actions throughout the whole thing, the ending and all the “acting” that was involved the whole time seemed to be a little bit of a cop-out to me. I’m not sure why, but the end leaves some things open with a sort of feeling that there is hopeful future or eventual conclusion in store, yet this didn’t exactly feel in keeping with the tone of rest of the book to me. In addition, I found all of the main characters of the novel to be absolutely deplorable people. They are given back-stories and circumstances which define who they are and why they do what they do, and yet I don’t find that this is enough to make the people presented feel all that real; they are chaotic and self-destructive caricatures of people, and I just wanted to shake them and tell them to stop and look at themselves more than once (“Look at your life. Look at your choices. What what what are you doing?”). It’s not that I don’t like things with unlikable protagonists, but unlike something like say, “Six Feet Under” where the off-putting characters are understandable and very telling of actual types of people in the world, these characters were a bit too much for me. Some people do like that kind of thing, however, I just didn’t find it to resonate with me all that much.

But to conclude, I did enjoy reading Invisible Monsters quite a bit, and think most people should consider giving it a go at some point or another. I just don’t know if it’s something I will pick up again any time soon.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

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