Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk

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Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Essential for all fans, long-term and short, addicted or jaded, of the great American shock-merchant.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: May 2016
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780099587682

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What are we to make of that subtitle-seeming writing on the front cover – stories you can't unread? Does that not apply to all good fiction? Clearly it is here due to the reputation of the author, and the baggage his name brings to the page. We'd expect a dramatic approach from anything Palahniuk writes, and an added frisson, an extra layer, from which we might be forced to shrink back. But a lot of the contents don't quite go that far. Yes, things are dramatic, when society starts attaching defibrillators to itself, to create the perfect, simple, care- (The Price is Right-, and Kardashian-) free happiness. A man buys a horse for his daughter – but boy is it the wrong horse to buy. A man falls in love – yes, sometimes the plot summaries of these stories really are better off for being short (speaking of which, don't turn to the three-page entrant here as a taster, it'll put you off by dint of being, almost uniquely here, a nothing story). A call centre worker can't convince people he's on the level and even in their country – until someone starts riffing back to him. A housing estate report conveys bad regulation violations, but not as bad as the happenings at a 'Burning Man'-styled festival, in a very clever couple of tales. But many too are the instances where that extra step has been taken.

A young man tries to deflect his father's cancer, the only way he knows how. A very ethnic-sounding, Malapropish narrative looks at a man buying a house once used in a porn film, and classroom euphemism is slathered over a look at teenaged sexuality. A female character in a humdrum supermarket-food-demonstrator-and-freebie-person job is actually Monkey in a world of all the other animals (in the opener to a trilogy of such tales). A woman away for work desperately tries to hear her daughter – her blind daughter – on the telephone from back home.

And if the extra layers don't sound like they float your boat, wait for the stories that merge two or three of the worst excesses of prior tales and lump them all together in one. And then wait for 'The Toad Prince', about which I can't really say more.

Yes, you can probably get a feel of the adult themes of the contents here. But being the errant stylist that is Chuck Palahniuk nowhere does the subject merge into one blob, nowhen does the mood feel too one-note, and at no time does the reader wish to be elsewhere (that 'Toad Prince' excepted). You can find a theme – I've not mentioned all the stories in my summary that have the clear moral of what happens when you don't at least try to swim upstream – when you settle you sink, when you contrive to lower yourself you stay lowered. These stories are as deft as you would wish for, and as meaningful as adult-only, NSFW-type content can be. What's even more gratifying is to see no page listing where all the contents have been seen before – I don't know for sure, but I assume these have all been kept back for an accepting audience by an author writing for personal reasons, and never on spec. Many will be the people not accepting this, for the language is definitely adult, the visual imagery it gives you is an 18-certificate and then some, and it does go against a certain sensibility (while never lambasting the person turning away in distaste, importantly), but for the likes of this writer, this was a sterling collection well worth engaging with. For sheer sustained quality, that goes beyond a great proportion of short story collections of all stripes, this has to be recommended.

And if you are still wavering, the words Fight Club and prequel might tempt you – even if I found its attempts at timeline-bending quite jarring.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Shore by Sara Taylor has been a great calling card in the form from recent weeks.

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Buy Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk at


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