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Disturbing Behavior - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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July 11th, 2008


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12:11 am - Disturbing Behavior
During my recent trip to Boston, I read an entire book and started another. It was a good little doubleheader, really.

The first was Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk, given to me by latropita. I had loved both Fight Club and Lullaby (the latter of which I got signed by Chuck Palahniuk), so I was looking forward to this one. Out of the three I've read, I like it the least, but that doesn't mean it's not really good.

One problem is that it has the least likable narrator. Victor Mancini is a sex addict (who describes his sex acts in great detail) who fakes choking in restaurants so that other people will "save" him and feel responsible for him and send him money that he uses to pay for his mother's hospital care. He's kind of a loathsome guy, but he's also incredibly self-loathing. Unlike Fight Club and Lullaby, which I felt had a very strong narrative drive, Choke is largely plotless; you never really know where it's going, or that it's going anywhere. It's mostly Victor's internal monologue, his commentary on society, how he feels about himself, his memories of growing up. It's a collection of thematics hanging on a thin narrative thread. The choking thing, which I thought was a major part of the book (look at the title!), is mostly in the background, barely important. So part of my initial disappointment about the book was the Vegemite Effect.

Although the narrative structure seemed to be a departure for Palahniuk, the writing was vintage Chuck, filled with all his hallmarks. You know how he writes. You know he likes the repetitive phrases. They either work for you or annoy you, sometimes both.

The book was enjoyable and funny enough, but I just wasn't feeling it. Until the end. The ending really pulled the book together for me and made me appreciate it as a whole so much more. I don't want to say why because I think, as I do about most stories, that it has more impact if you're not expecting it. I'm not talking about some OMG TWIST ENDING thing. The final chapter, the closing images, the last sentence, the ultimate message...it stays with you.

(I have no fucking idea how they made a movie out of this. We'll have to see. Sam Rockwell! Kelly Macdonald! Anjelica Huston!)

The second book was Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn, recommended to me by evilstmars. Gillian Flynn is a former Entertainment Weekly writer, and while I have no memory of anything she specifically wrote, I do love Entertainment Weekly. If you're looking to creep yourself out without even knowing you're doing it, this is the book for you. It's very disturbing but in an understated way. Everything is very grounded, and nothing is over-the-top; you feel like you're reading about real people, like this could have really happened.

The story revolves around a journalist, Camille Preaker, who reluctantly goes back to her hometown to investigate a couple child murders. The town of Wind Gap is one of those small towns that seems idyllic on the surface until you start listening to all the gossip and discover the human nastiness that lies beneath the surface. And, again, it's not like this place has some ridiculous Big Secret like they're sacrificing out-of-towners or something. It's just...regular stuff.

But Camille is FULL OF ANGST OMG. First of all, she used to be a cutter, and not just any old cutter: she cut words into her skin. It's a neat little narrative gimmick that allows the author to give character insight by simply mentioning related words on her body. Second, her little sister died when she was younger. Her mom is an acerbic, unloving bitca. Her half-sister is a wild child. Her stepdad is barely there. Flynn has no desire to put the fun back in dysfunctional. But a lot of the book focuses on Camille's attempts to better understand her mother and sister after having left them so many years ago.

The murder mystery is just a vehicle for the real story, which is about Camille's family and the town of Wind Gap. You sort of figure out who the murderer is along with Camille; there's no magic "Aha!" moment. It's not that kind of book.

Hell, Stephen King called it an "admirably nasty piece of work, elevated by sharp writing and sharper insights." Even Stephen King got creeped out by this book! That's when you know you've won.

One day, I'll read a happy book.
Current Mood: rushedrushed
Current Music: Tegan and Sara - Floorplan

(12 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:electricmonk
Date:July 11th, 2008 08:11 am (UTC)
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Ohhhhh. The only thing I knew about Choke was that it involves a masturbation addict, and I totally thought that's what the title was referring to. Heh.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 11th, 2008 03:18 pm (UTC)
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Actually, it's his best friend who's a masturbation addict.
[User Picture]
From:electricmonk
Date:July 11th, 2008 05:30 pm (UTC)
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Ah. Silly me.
[User Picture]
From:sophia_helix
Date:July 11th, 2008 08:33 am (UTC)
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Your Facebook informs me that you are going to Outside Lands after all! I fix you with a steely glare!
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 11th, 2008 03:19 pm (UTC)
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Well, yeah, it was my going-away gift from Cynda. Although now she's flying back so she can go herself too, so it's a crazy early birthday gift instead. Either way, are you going?
[User Picture]
From:kyuuketsukirui
Date:July 11th, 2008 09:28 am (UTC)
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Just saw this on friendsfriends and had to comment. Choke was the third book I read by him, after Fight Club and Survivor, and I had pretty much the same reaction. It took me a while to get into, and I wasn't that into it, and then bam, the end. Awesome.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 11th, 2008 03:22 pm (UTC)
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Right? It completely changes your outlook on the story. I really liked how it turned out. Oh, rocks.

How's Survivor?
[User Picture]
From:kyuuketsukirui
Date:July 11th, 2008 10:06 pm (UTC)
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It's not my favorite of his, but I really enjoyed it. I mean, I highly recommend everything of his, so...
[User Picture]
From:ethanvahlere
Date:July 11th, 2008 09:20 pm (UTC)
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I have Choke on reserved at the library. I'm hoping to read it before the movie comes out, especially since Clark Gregg, one of my fave character actors (he had a recurring role on The West Wing), is the director (although he did write What Lies Beneath, which I didn't like, I blame that more on director Robert Zemeckis).
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 11th, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC)
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I liked What Lies Beneath, but I know nothing of this Clark Gregg guy. From what I read on Wikipedia, it sounds like he sort of crafted his own take on the story, which seems about the only way to do it: you have to force a stronger narrative into the movie because you don't have the writing to fall back on. The trailer makes it look like they're going for more of an offbeat black comedy, and most everything in the trailer seems true to the book, although it's nothing like I would have imagined it myself.
[User Picture]
From:thetheatremouse
Date:August 2nd, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)
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My wife read Choke a while back and what she told me about it afterward was almost exactly what you just said. Interesting...
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:August 4th, 2008 07:19 am (UTC)
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A) Cool!

B) Wife?!

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