Make Something Up

by Chuck Palahnuik

“By the time you turn thirty, your life is about escaping the person you’ve become in order to escape the person you’ve become in order the escape the person you started as.”

Folks talk about varied collections. The phrase “runs the gamut” has been overused to the extent you might cringe whenever you see it, which is unfortunate becomes sometimes it’s apt… or would be if it hadn’t been ground into the dust. Make Something Up is one of the most varied single-author collections you can read. It doesn’t run the gamut, it devours the gamut and regurgitates it as a projectile weapon hurled in your direction.

Some of these stories are among the best you can ever read. “Zombies” takes the crown. But “Why Coyote Never Had Money for Parking” and “Expedition” follows right at its heels, and “Phoenix” and the novella Inclinations are damned-near perfect stories as well. But you can’t discount the rest, because most everything else sits squarely in the ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ tent. And besides the stunners, there’s also one of the most disturbing/disgusting stories you’ve ever read, and another that misuses language so badly it’s difficult to read. It’s tough to identify a unifying thread among them, besides most are incredibly strong, and all are 100% Palahnuik with his trademarked criticism of society and told from 23 different angles.

The best are called out here, but a full list is broken down below:

“Zombies” – In an epidemic sweeping the nation young folks have decided life is much easier when stupid and are turning themselves into zombies using defibrillators to escape the absurd pressures of today’s society, trading intelligence for happiness. This one will knock you around.

“Why Coyote Never Had Money for Parking” – Another champion story in the collection, Coyote is trapped in a life he despises and works hard just to have enough money not to be able to afford what everyone else gets for free–a cautionary tale.

“Phoenix” – Another top-notch tale, this one details a domineering wife away on a business trip, constantly calling home and goading her weak-willed husband into forcing their child to speak to her. Paralleling is an investigation that took place after fire consumed their first home. Be careful who you marry, and don’t be unlucky.

“Expedition” – A man is chronicling the worst of the human world, visiting and writing about the dirty undergrounds of prostitution and depravity found in every city. On one such outing he meets a stranger and is convinced to follow him to meet an unknown monster. This one’s a thinker, and there’s a certain Tyler . . .

Inclinations – A young boys fools his parents into committing him to a fag farm, guaranteed to cure every occupant of homosexuality, because of rumors he’s heard of what goes on and the reward he’s expecting when he’s “cured.” Inside he learns the horrible truth of what happens behind the walls, and his group of fellow initiates, nearly all whom also fooled their parents, attempt escape.

Also, one warning. There is a story here that some people just aren’t going to want to read:

“Cannibal” – A young, inexperienced male student gains popularity among certain women with his version of oral sex. This one is one of the most disturbing stories you’ll ever read. If you’re squeamish at all, just skip it.

full 23-story breakdown

Even if you don’t care for what you’ve seen from the author in the past, the short story “Zombies,” which can be found free online, comes with the highest recommendation: (called “Zombie” here, SFW)

If you don’t like “Zombies,” this collection probably isn’t for you. But for you others, those who identify with Mr. Palahnuik’s work and think you’ve recognized something deeply disturbing in the world, an unknowable, ruinous undercurrent in our nature tugging us along, you should probably read this. These stories don’t shy away from examining the darkness outside our doors and inside ourselves, but there’s a glimmer of hope, and you can see it occasionally here if you can get past the sorcerer wielding the philosophies of the end of the world.

“Our salvation lies in not only forgiving one another,” his father intoned, “but in forgiving God as well.”

4 stars


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