The Short Version: Shannon McFarland, fashion model extraordinaire, has lost the bottom half of her face in a horrific gunshot accident. She falls in with Brandy Alexander and her ex-fiance and sets off across the country to scam drugs and to attempt to kill both of her companions. Of course, nothing is remotely what it appears to be – this is Palahniuk after all.
The Review: I remember reading Invisible Monsters in my parents’ greenhouse in high school, some holiday break, listening to the then-newest Smash Mouth album. So it’s only fitting that I should return to my family home and that same greenhouse to revisit the novel all these years later. Happy Birthday, America – your patron saint of fucked-up has returned to prove that even with an uneven output of late, he’s still better than any imitation.
I don’t remember a whole lot from that initial reading. I am, of course, forever transfixed by the mental image of Shannon jawless – Chuck only describes it in detail once or twice, once saying that scar tissue looks like cherry pie and once saying that her tongue hangs loose unless she holds it up to the roof of her mouth. No jaw. From there, I think you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of the thing, yeah? I’m also still, to this day, struck by the beginning of the novel: Evie with the burnt-up dress, on the staircase with the shotgun. Brandy bleeding to death on the floor. Our narrator stuck between them as the house burns down. That’s a hell of a way to start a novel and guess what? It didn’t lose any of its power all these years later.
This version of the novel, however, is not the novel I remember. For one thing, it’s in hardcover. For another, it is done in the style he originally intended: that is, like an old school issue of Vogue. You’re forced to jump around the novel to follow the thread – the book doesn’t end at the end but rather… somewhere else. Plus, there are pieces of the novel that you don’t get the first time around. You see them – a strange first-person narration on the next page or some backwards text (like, mirror-reversed text) on the page before your chapter starts – but you never get to them. And so you wonder…
Chuck’s opening narration mentions hoping you [the reader] get lost. I thought about it. Thought about jumping into a chapter that I was NOT intended to jump to… but I couldn’t bring myself to, not after so long away from the novel. Instead, I read the novel “in order” and took notes in pencil on the back cover – and sure enough, there were like ten chapters I was missing. From what I can tell, the novel itself exists exactly the same as it did in the original version, but there’ve been additions. DVD extras. Some memoir from Mr. P – and he’s quite the memoirist – as well as some further illumination of the novel and a little “what came next” for Daisy St. Patience. It’s fun to discover at the end of the novel – especially if you read Mr. P’s memoir bits last. Suddenly you see a man YEARS after he wrote a novel – years after his critical cachet has waned – coming back to a novel that may, in fact, be his most unabashedly weird and the most ‘him’ of all of his many stories. Sure, Rant was pretty weird and pretty good and Fight Club is unassailable… so is Survivor, by my reckoning. But it’s nothing new to say that the man has slipped a bit since Haunted. So it’s fun to see him come back to a text that gave him his start (quite literally) and play with it.
Because the story itself is… it’s still laugh-out-loud shocking at times. It’s weird. It is downright fucked up quite often. But it is brilliant. So brilliant that you can’t look directly at it, like a star. Shannon, her gay brother having died and her parents having become obsessed with gay rights, goes off to become a model. She then LOSES HER JAW in a strange shooting while she was driving? It’s weird and no one asks any questions, because, well, okay, that’s the way this story is going then. And so she’s off stealing pills from rich people’s homes, hanging out with this other model – who, SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
TURNS OUT TO BE HER BROTHER, HAVING UNDERGONE SEVERAL SERIOUS SURGERIES. And this plot twist is NOT ridiculous at all but instead it’s so screwed up that it just makes sense. You roll with it, instead of finding it totally out of the realm of possibility. Of course, that is in fact the line between Palahniuk fans and those who dislike/hate/loathe him. You have to be willing to accept his world, his strange universe – the fact that he’s the ‘original’ in-yer-face novelist. He learned from people like Ellis and McInerney but took it to another level.
So don’t read this version of the novel if you’ve never read it before. That’s probably the big question to everyone who is a Palahniuk fan. It is a reason to revisit Invisible Monsters but I worry that it would throw too many people off if you’ve never read Chuck before. Maybe you take a look at this version without having read the original – that’s fine, if you’ve read three or four of Chuck’s other novels. But the fact that this novel already jumps around in time rather freely (“Jump to… Jump to…”) means that you’re already going to be a bit disorientated if you’re not ready for it. The whole thing ping-pongs back and forth from the start to the end until it comes a head in the middle – that alone will be enough to turn plenty of readers off. Let alone the mirror-text chapters (which Chuck rightly points out might aggravate anyone over the age of 22. I’d amend that, slightly, to say that it’ll possibly aggravate anyone who didn’t start reading Chuck’s work before they turned 23. I will read every single thing the man publishes until he goes into that gentle goodnight – because of the fact that the man got started by writing three books that are unparalleled in American letters: Fight Club, Survivor, and Invisible Monsters are weird, fast, like a punch in the stomach… that makes you come up and ask for more.
It’s great to see you back, Princess Brandy. Ms. Evie. And of course, our dear Miss St. Patience – you’ve never looked better.
Rating: 5+ out of 5. Visual Editions might’ve had fun publishing this but I’m just impressed that Norton went ahead and published it. Only an author like Palahniuk could get away with this sort of thing in this day and age – what most people would call a double-dip, I think. But not only is it worth it to have the novel in hardcover, it’s worth it to revisit the story as it was intended. And to get a few bonuses along the way. And, having ordered my copy signed & inscribed from St. Helen’s Bookshop (Chuck’s home indie bookseller), I was looking forward to the wacky surprises that would come along. This time, it was a hell of a lot of glitter and confetti scattered through the book – as well as kisses stamped all over the pages. Simply fantastic.