CHUCK PALAHNIUK: TELL-ALL (Doubleday, May 4, 2010, $24.95)
The Great Hall at the Cooper Union
7 East Seventh St. at Third Ave.
Thursday, May 6, $30, 6:00
There’s a critical moment in every Chuck Palahniuk book when readers have to decide whether to forge ahead or return it disgustedly to the shelf, perhaps never to be opened again. In such bestselling novels as FIGHT CLUB, CHOKE, HAUNTED, RANT, and PYGMY, Palahniuk describes, in great detail, gut-twisting (literally) scenes of intense, brutal sex and/or violence, often told in a complex narrative style that takes some getting used to. Stick with it and you’re rewarded with some of the most intelligent, darkest satirical writing of the last fifteen years that’s as fun as it is challenging.
His latest work, TELL-ALL, is told from the point of view of Hazie Coogan, the longtime caretaker and protector of former Hollywood starlet Katherine Kenton. It’s a wry mash-up of SUNSET BOULEVARD and THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, with Palahniuk bold-facing a vast array of celebrity characters centered around Lillian Hellman, from George Cukor and Adolph Zukor to Christian Dior and Coco Chanel, from Rita Hayworth and Lucille Ball to Peter Lorre and Clifton Webb, and, perhaps most appropriately, famous gossip columnists Walter Winchell, Hedda Hopper, and Louella Parsons.
Palahniuk, a journalism major and former movie projectionist who splits his time between his home state of Washington and Oregon, will be making his sole New York City appearance in support of TELL-ALL on May 6 at the Great Hall at the Cooper Union, a much-anticipated event that will include Julie Halson performing selections from the book as Katherine Kenton and Hazie Coogan; tickets are $30, and all attendees get a poster and a signed hardcover. Palahniuk took a break from his schedule, which will also take him to Portsmouth, Boston, Asheville, Chicago, and other cities, to answer a few questions we had for him over e-mail.
twi-ny: Your rabid fan base, known as the Cult, has a habit of coming to your readings and signings dressed up as characters from your books, tying Christmas trees to the tops of their cars, and mimicking other elements from you stories. What do you think it is about you and your books that attract this kind of worship? When we attend readings by the likes of Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami, and Tom Robbins, things tend to be a bit more subdued, which in no way are we implying is preferable, of course.
Chuck Palahniuk: After twenty years as part of the Cacophony Society, I see that people love events which allow them to act out and participate in consensual ways. No one wants to be the lone fool, but if everyone is dressed as Santa Claus it’s safe and communal and still fun. As the person onstage I’m especially aware of being a lonely idiot so I stage book events to include games and costumes and prizes and activities, each linked to either the book I’m pimping or to the piece I’ve written specifically to read at that event. Yes, this extra effort takes me all winter to orchestrate — even at this moment, my props and prizes are already shipped to each venue, including the Cooper Union — but this structure and preparation also allows me to relax and have a good time. Once I’m traveling and bone-tired and starving I still have the assurance of my structured insanity to keep me sane.
twi-ny: Your new book, TELL-ALL, deals with Hollywood celebrity. Who are some of your favorite old-timers? Bette Davis or Joan Crawford? Clara Bow or Theda Bara? Marilyn, Mamie, or Mansfield?
CP: No one will ever be as bitter and lovely as Geraldine Fitzgerald — I’ll sit through all of WUTHERING HEIGHTS just to hear her say, “Ïf Cathy dies . . . perhaps then I might live.” That’s a guesstimate of the quote. However, I burn a perpetual candle beside a shrine to Gloria Grahame; nobody played more or better floozies and bitches. You know she was polishing Jim Stewart’s apple in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or why else would he give her all that money?
twi-ny: Your only New York City appearance will be on May 6 at the Great Hall of the Cooper Union, where presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln gave one of his most memorable speeches, 150 years ago this past February. How do you think Lincoln would do if he were to run in 2012? How do you think he might respond to TELL-ALL and Julie Halston?
CP: Now you’ve lost me — you’re SUCH a name-dropper! I have no idea who Julie Halston is. Or Abraham Lincoln, I can’t even find him on IMDB. Are you referring to the character on the old MOD SQUAD? Wasn’t Peggy Lipton cool . . . sigh.
twi-ny: In your introduction to David Mack’s KABUKI: THE ALCHEMY, you write, “Art is the lie that tells the truth better than the truth. . . . [David Mack builds] a metaphor that allows people to see and explore their own experience.” The same can be said for your writing, which is also very visual and cinematic. Do you have any interest in perhaps collaborating with an artist such as David Mack, or writing a graphic novel or comic book? Your website features Kissgzs’s adaptations of INVISIBLE MONSTERS and LULLABY; might there be more of those in the future?
CP: Frankly, I won’t rule out anything except suicide.