I love Chuck Palahniuk. He’s one of my favorite authors. I will, without fail, continue to order each of his new books in hardcover, signed and inscribed, from St. Helen’s Bookshop to be delivered to my house by the time I get home from college right around the day it comes out. I’ve been getting Chuck’s books signed since Haunted in 2005. Been reading them since I was a freshman in high school and read Survivor for that god-awful Graduation Project. So I’ve been a Chuck fan for a while.
This is not to say that I believe he is infallible. While I loved Rant, I’ve thought that most of his output since, well, Haunted has been middling at best. Pygmy was a challenge and kind of fun – but never quite achieved that level of cohesiveness of some of his other work. It was too much genre experimentation, not enough actually meat. And don’t get me started on Snuff, which I found to be one of the biggest waste-of-time reads ever. This brings us, then, to Tell-All.
An interesting concept and one that it seems Chuck would be well suited for: 1950s Hollywood. Lillian Hellman style butchering of people’s lives. Hellman’s even a character. Yet this book never quite gets off the ground, unfortunately. The second half of the plot picks up and, like most of Chuck’s recent works, the stylistic idiosyncrasies become unnoticeable. However, the second half just wasn’t enough to redeem the first half (in fact, it wasn’t much in and of itself in the first place). While this book didn’t inspire the “ugh, that was rough” feelings that Snuff provoked, it wasn’t much better.
The characters are flat. I mean, really truly completely flat. Katherine Kenton had some possibility – the vapid, washed-up movie star is always a ripe character to create and play with. Yet Chuck does very little with her. The narrator of the novel, Hazie Coogan, gets away with a few great lines – and the twist involving her at the end is, while mostly expected from about the midway point of the novel, a good one… but she still isn’t really anything entertaining. Her motivations are only really “revealed” near the end of the book and its done in such a perfunctory way that you can’t help but not care.
The “device” of this book was two-fold. One, Chuck bolded everything that was a proper noun. People, places, things. Okay, we get it, this is “fame” – it wore thin but also didn’t really annoy me like it seemed to annoy a lot of people (i.e. other reviews I’ve read). The other one was to break the book down into something like a play… but also like a movie. Acts One, Two, and Three – all broken into multiple scenes. Yet the dialogue wasn’t presented like a script and we got a lot of narration-in-the-form-of-camera-directions. Hazy focus, pans, swipes, dissolves, smash cuts, etc. Granted, Kenton moves from the screen world to (at the end) a major Broadway production… but the combination within the book didn’t work. I’d love to see Chuck write a play (or a novel in dramatic form, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited) or even consider devoting his time to one world or the other (stage or screen, in a literary sense. perhaps the dialogue could be in script-format, I don’t know). This just felt a little slapdash, a little not-all-with-it.
Now, I know that he banged out like four novels while his mother was dying of cancer because that’s what kept him going. I know that his next book, due out next year, is the last of the four (the first having been Snuff). I hope, sincerely, that after that (because I will give him the doubt instead of the benefit and predict that the next novel will be middling-to-bad as well) he’ll be able to maybe take a year off and allow himself some time to really create another great novel.
Hell, maybe he can write the Lillian Hellman novel that I’d originally heard this was going to be. I have to say that when she pops up in this book, as completely and wildly over-the-top as her scripts and appearances are… well, it popped. It was SO ridiculous that it couldn’t do anything BUT pop.
Rating: 2 out of 5. The increased tempo of the plot, once it swings around to the potential attempts on Kenton’s life, helped salvage this book from any worse rating, but even then, this just isn’t a good book. It isn’t bad and all Chuck devotees like myself ought to give it a read – but it commits the cardinal sin of Hollywood and that’s that it is boring. Even if he keeps being boring for the next ten books, I’ll keep reading… but only in the hopes that someday, he’ll pull out a comeback and give us something that sets the world aflame again.