Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The singular Chuck Palahniuk

By the time you read this my friend, Candice, will be dead. We've been friends, members of the same writers' workshop, since 1990, reading and editing each other's work one night each week until she was diagnosed with cancer at 44. I've seen every draft of every book Candie's written. One of her short stories, The Man with the Scars, she brought for review each Thursday night for a year, some 50 rewrites, until I could recite all 18 pages from memory.
So opens Chuck Palahniuk's essay in the Guardian, "Till Death Do Us Part."

"Cycle" horror stories, he argues, are "comforting the same way porno is comforting: you already know how they're going to end. The actor will achieve a loud orgasm or die. In a slasher film he or she will likely do both."
In all [cycle movies/stories], an individual is trapped by an established cycle of events that doom and destroy. From their story you can imagine that same cycle or process stretching into the past or future, destroying an endless chain of similar people, all of them denying the dire nature of their circumstances until their fate is inevitable.
It's an interesting enough argument.

It's almost as if a victim in a cycle movie is more than a fictional casualty, she's more like a sacrifice to keep the rest of us safe. By witnessing his or her death, the rest of us feel more safe. Like watching the strangers who suffer and die on the television news every night. In hurricanes and rebel insurrections. We've seen the cycle run its course, and this time we weren't the one who drew the wrong lot and had to perish.

If nothing else, there's comfort in recognising that no matter how much we fail and sin, death will limit our suffering. Even if it's just the death of our innocence--the petty, vain, plotting person we've always been--just seeing that ego destroyed provides a kind of relief.

I'll buy that. Yet what makes the article so Palahniukian is the invocation of the (presumably) real Candice and her imminent--well, now, her very recent--expiration from cancer, and the fact that it bookends an argument about horror movies.

Palahniuk fans--and I'm one of them--love how he hits us with what we don't expect.

--Marshal Zeringue