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AICN BOOKS! Frank Bascombe With The First Review Anywhere Of Chuck P

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

This is one of those scoops that even those of you who don’t normally read the AICN BOOKS column should appreciate, considering the size of the Chuck Palahniuk cult. I know I’m dying to hear what his new one is like, although I’m still a little woozy from my exposure to “Guts.” I’ll let Frank tell you all about it...

Clearly I'm the only one watching ‘Unscripted’, and liking it. A whole lot.

Clooney and Soderbergh should continue making movies, television shows, whatever, for as long as humanly possible. I adored ‘K Street’ and was thrilled to see it on DVD. They make movies like O11/O12 for the money, but you know what? Both flicks hold water, the second for sure. Let’s hope the rumors of their demise are exaggerated, greatly. Something about the serial aspect of both HBO shows, the no-credit lead in, and the nearly no-name actors in both shows. ‘Unscripted’ won't make another season, for sure. I certainly hope it does. But just like Marty’s upcoming “snub” at the Oscars, something will plow these guys under, something bigger and broader with less of a focus on the unique details of life. Watch out, here comes “Million Dollar Baby”, with its cardboard cutout stereotypes and run of the mill story line. Holes in the socks and all. Sad, really it is. Here’s to hoping that Marty, Soderbergh and Clooney keep up the good work. ‘Unscripted’, like ‘Aviator’, is one of the best things to come along in years.

This is supposed to be about books…It’s Not A Secret If I Don’t Tell Anyone.

I Love My Smith & Wesson by David Bowker

St. Martin’s Griffin, 227 Pages

William Dye is a writer. William Dye is not the man you need to concern yourself with. Don’t worry, his childhood friend, Rawhead, is the man that will keep you up at night. Sadly, this book is saddled with an awful quote on the front cover that otherwise blisters with extreme excellence…it reads….

“‘The Sopranos’ meets ‘The Jackal’ in a part of England Agatha Christie knew absolutely nothing about.” -- Lee Child, New York Times Bestselling Author.

Umm… Lee Child is not the guy who should get quoted on the cover of this book. A low rent grifter of soft-centered thriller/mysteries. Hell, he’s not even that bad. He’s worse. His books are the reasons books like this one get published. He makes McDonalds-type money, when the critics are fawning over guys like Bowker. All those Big Macs must be nice, if not a bitch to carry. David Bowker has written a winner and rightly so.

Back to William Dye…sorry. Mr. Dye is off to get married in the dark and mysterious hills of Scotland, but in the distance comes his nemesis, Rawhead, the “Jackal” of the quote. Now if this guy was “The Jackal”, he wouldn’t spend so much time hanging out with the losers and deadbeat low life mobster wanna-be’s that crowd this hysterically brilliant novel. Rawhead is the evil wheel that spins damage all over the inhabitants of the rundown and completely morally vacant Manchester, England. Our friend, Mr. Dye, spent the first installment, ‘The Death You Deserve’, writing about the gangsters of The Priesthood who all but run the town of Manchester. The head of that crime family wanted his biography written, and then when he discovers that it’s not all sugar and spice, puts a hit out on William Dye. Needless to say, Mr. Dye survives the first book to make a starring appearance in this, the sequel.

‘I Love My Smith & Wesson’ is a brilliant trip into the English side of things, the dirt under the fingernails, the meat pies, lager, ale and generally a wild and funny seat of your pants ride into a genre of fiction that just isn't published enough any more. David Bowker does what Douglas E. Winter did in the brilliant ‘Run’, which is to submerge the reader into the hideous world of organized crime, but where guns and operatic death were Winter’s stock and trade, Bowker leaves you gasping for air with the best portrait of low end gangsters you’re likely to get your hands on. Sure, Jake Arnott did it in the ‘Long Firm’ and ‘He Kills Coppers’, but this book cooks with gas.

William Dye is nothing more than a starting point for one nasty motherfucker, a man who’s not even a man. Rawhead is where it’s at. Whether he’s hiring low level idiots to do his dirty work, or wiping clean the dirt from his hands by annihilating everything that deserves to be granted escape from this mortal coil, he’s a man who lives to kill, he’s the guy you hope you never see. I liked Rawhead but didn’t love him. If Bowker has one fault in this book, it’s that he has too much killing, a little bit too much. I loved Malcolm Priest, son of the ruler of The Priesthood, who is carrying out his dead father’s wishes by running the family business with a third party that is only out for his own good luck, a bastard, a low lifer - which in this book isn’t an insult. He goes by the name of “Chef” and figures peripherally in this slick narrative. You see…Chef hires The Spirit of Darkness to dispatch Rawhead, but he doesn’t know that evil loves evil and that a war may be brewing from these actions. Rawhead does things you only hear about on the evening news; he’s the guy who will do what the other guy won’t. So in that aspect, he’s Tony Soprano. Well, maybe not that base. You’ll dig this story. It’s fun, exciting, not completely original, but certainly not derivative in any of the obtuse fashions that seem to be bombarding all surrounding bookstores.

Now a word from our sponsors…

Hard Case Crime

Various authors

“Big Ups” to the cool cat over at Hard Case Crime who’s publishing some very groovy crime novels, pulp, fringe; blazing with exciting package designs. These books caught my eye recently in a local bookstore, glowing on the mass-market tower with sizzling cover art from the days before Chip Kidd. Some of the best cover art that you’ve never seen by the likes of: Bill Nelson, Chuck Pyle, Gregory Manchess, Robert McGinnis, Max Texeira and R.B. Farrell.

‘Fade to Blonde’ by Max Phillips, ‘Grifter’s Game’ by Lawrence Block, ‘Top of the Heap’ by Erle Stanley Gardner, ‘Little Girl Lost’ by Richard Aleas, ‘The Confession’ by Domenic Stansberry and ‘Two for the Money’ by Max Allan Collins. These are only a few of the titles coming out in paperback - a nice size that fits in your pocket. Again, like the Bowker book, this is the kind of stuff that doesn’t have space on the shelves anymore since the New York publishing scene has gotten so incredibly narrow. Search this stuff out and try one on. At $6.99, they’re a dollar cheaper than Danielle Steel’s latest festival of horrors and far more engaging.

We now return to our regularly scheduled program…

If you’ve read this column you know how I feel about our next author. It’s always a treat to have his latest book slide across my desk. The nice people at Doubleday have seen to it that I get out in front of this one. I hope this “open letter” to Mr. Palahniuk will give you an early peek at this soon to be bestseller.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Doubleday, 256 pages

Chuck Palahniuk

C/O: Doubleday

1745 Broadway

New York, NY 10019

Dear Mr. Palahniuk,

We met a few times over the course of the last several years, while you were on one book tour or another. I asked you at a book signing in New York if you ever read the Ain’t it Cool site. You said you didn’t read reviews of your books, which is okay; you get too high or low after reading them, which is understandable. I wanted to drop you a note to let you know that I’ve finished your new book, ‘Haunted’, and have to tell you it’s a complete homerun, a winning masterpiece. You want the good news? There isn’t any bad news.

‘Fight Club’ changed my life; sure, you get that a lot I’ll bet. But it was influential for many reasons; specifically, you showed me that there are no limits to fiction. If you can think it up, you can write it, forget conventional wisdom. There will be an editor who’ll find it. A publisher will get it. Even the jaded moneymakers who seem to be publishing only the safest bet these days.

And to me, that is thrilling.

I have some questions about your new book, and in a way, this really is just a letter to talk about the book, give the charming readers of Ain’t it Cool News a chance to get an early glimpse of this novel, a preview. That’s how we do it here at AICN. We’re always early with our news. Otherwise there’d be no point.

Down to business.

‘Haunted’ has this premise:

“Writer’s Retreat

Abandon Your Life For Three Months

Just disappear. Leave behind everything that keeps you from creating your masterpiece. Your job and family and home, all those obligations and distractions - put them on hold for three months. Live with like-minded people in a setting that supports total immersion in your work. Food and lodging included free for those who qualify. Gamble a small fraction of your life on the chance to create a new future as a professional poet, novelist, screenwriter. Before it’s too late, live the life you dream about. Space is very limited.”

You’ve set up a commune for your heroes, for us, for everyone. Somewhere, driving in a bus, picking up one small tiny insignificant person after another and taking them as a group to this strange theater. No windows, no TV, no contact with the outside world. So far you’ve created a very simple concept, (one that every television network has done in spades over that last few years), and spun it into a severely critical narrative. Holding the mirror up to society. But where did you get the idea to spin this story into sections, stories and poems? That’s what gets me. Each chapter is either an excerpt from inside the theater where all the contestants are living or a poem about each of them or a story told by them. This stuff is blazing with narcissism and public masturbation, all the while you’ve given these people names like Saint-Gut Free, Director Denial, Duke of Vandals, Agent Tattletale… I’ll stop here; don’t want to spoil the fun for the rest of the world.

Look at me! Look at me! I’m on a game show. I’m gonna be a star! I’m going to do what ever it takes to be on TV. WHAT EVER IT TAKES. These people are hoping to become stars through their stay in this “commune”. They do the stupid things that all reality television “stars” do. Regret doesn’t even play into it. Forget regret. They want the bestseller, made for TV. Movie, they want the limo, the celebrity appearances, and this will all be better for them in the end. “This” is their life. But they tell the stories of their life, along with some poetry, and their life is so good now, it’s better than good. These people, the people you made, are better than any naked executive from Newport, RI could ever be.

Because that’s where you make it, that’s the place that gives you purpose. You haven’t lived, really lived until you’ve been on TV. You have some of the characters, I won’t name them, go out and pretend to be homeless, and then finally, you have Director of Denial tell a story that will make you infamous. This story will get people to ban your book. This will make kids who don’t have money steal this book. ‘Exodus’ will make them cringe. This will make the hair on Kakutani’s neck stand straight out. She’ll hate it. Maslin will most likely review this. The Madame of Criticism is a prude, rumored to be that way, and this isn’t for her. This is the story that will cement your status. I know some people fainted and passed out when you read sections of this book to an audience. I missed those “events” but wonder if this section caused that reaction, because it completely floored me and I’m as jaded and calloused as anyone you’ll ever meet.

‘Exodus’ is too good to talk about here. But where did you get the idea for razor blades in the orifices of the prosthetic dolls? That’s out of control.

What I like most about this new book is that you’ve taken yourself out of it. You know, the sentences where I knew you were talking.

“There is no Hell, there is no Heaven.” ‘Survivor’.

“The weather today is partly angry, leading to resignation and ultimatums.” ‘Diary’.

I could go on. But you get it. You’ve taken that stuff, you, and mixed it into the people you write about. That’s the finality of it all. Making the material so seamless that we only see the illusion. It’s them writing…not you.

You’ve made two-dimensional design 3-D. Like television, or not, it’s the other way around. Or is it?

We see these people, we see ourselves and we watch because our ‘not so secret desire’ is to do that, be that, and you’ve shown it to us in ‘Haunted’.

Finally.

Why the zip-lock bags of food? Saint Gut-Free. Why him? Where did Cora come from? I’ll be honest, I had to dole this book out to myself. I didn’t want to finish it. Not because it was no good, but because I liked it too much, I wanted it to last forever. Liken it to an orgasm. But then even that, in excess, would kill you, me, us (the royal us, not you and me Chuck, like the “us” of the rest of the world), whatever.

What about the ‘Ritual’ story? The Matchmaker tells it, where did you get that idea? It’s the commentary on everyone’s past, is it that or is it something that no one is ever proud of, but yet they still do it? Shoo-rook. Why does it bother me so much? It’s like smelling the contents of your belly button, that moment when you read the punch line to the Shoo-rook joke. Really it is. But the throat of the poor girl was cut…with something awful in it, and the sound it makes…

In the end, it’s not a long narrative arc like the rest of modern convention. It doesn’t come out and say the things that need to be said in, you know, plain terms, like, “you’re a selfish bottom feeder who thinks the world will split in half if you don’t get on Survivor”. These shows, the shows you’re making fun of, they wouldn’t exist with out the advertisers. Tide. Ford. You know the ones. In a lot of ways, ‘Haunted’ becomes the final chapter in your maturity as a writer. It all started with ‘Fight Club’ where you outlined the broad strokes of ‘Haunted’ and then fed the remaining ideas through the meat grinder, coming up with the amoral equivalent of a grand social comment. These things, they’re like AA meeting confessions. Or moments alone in a dark closet, you know, the things you hear yourself say that scare you. Make you think.

“Because I want him dead. Am I a killer?”

Maybe.

I know Doubleday has you on a book a year schedule, and at first I thought that was a bad thing. You know, too much Chuck. My pals over at Bookmunch.com have talked about keeping you out in the public’s view, fresh, relevant. I skipped ‘Stranger than Fiction’ because I was scared of ruining the feeling of a new book from you. Anyway, it sounds like you’ve got a winner on your hands. I know you won’t read this letter; maybe someone will tell you about it, or not.

My best,

Frank Bascombe

Thanks, man. Sounds insane.

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback
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  • Feb. 13, 2005, 10:06 p.m. CST

    Chuck Amok

    by Mr_Furious

    Good to hear he's still in form. Diary was the only book of his tht I couldn't get through. I think he's stronger with male protagonists. www.theletterd.blogspot.com

  • Feb. 13, 2005, 10:38 p.m. CST

    Bascombe, please keep us at AICN updated on your plans to propos

    by SmarkJobber

    And, uh, I watch "Unscripted." So, clearly you are wrong. What, you think Clooney and Co. made the series to beam solely into your bedroom? It is a good little show, probably low on the radar because of how "inside" the subject matter is. It's not a hyuck-fest, nor exceedingly dramatic (very Soderbergh-ian), and thus perfect for HBO. As for "Haunted," I'll pick it up used. Loved "Survivor" and "Fight Club," was less impressed by "Choke."

  • Feb. 13, 2005, 11:57 p.m. CST

    Wow...

    by johnhawks

    I'm dying over here, Frank. Send me over a copy of that!

  • Feb. 14, 2005, 2:52 a.m. CST

    Hell if GUTS is in the book, I gots to pick it up.

    by Tall_Boy

    I need this like I need teeth in my asshole.

  • Feb. 14, 2005, 12:56 p.m. CST

    Do Talkbackers actually read real books?

    by Homer Sexual

    Just wondering, since there is a very low number of responses to this. In any case, I am grateful for this bit because I love Pahlaniuk's books and this review was very informative.

  • Feb. 14, 2005, 3:57 p.m. CST

    Is the short "Punchdrunk Love" that is now in PLAYBOY also in "H

    by ProzacMorris

    I have read all of Chuck's fiction, many times, and met him when he signed in a suburb outside of Chicago. He is a great man/author and I can't wait for "Haunted".

  • Feb. 14, 2005, 7:28 p.m. CST

    Homer Sexual.

    by Gilkuliehe

    Cannot answer for the rest, but I assure you I do read books. Personally I haven't posted here because I couldn't think of a way of bringing up the evolving sensibility of Michael Bay into this particular talkback. I do agree with you, though: this article was very informative ergo no need for trolls bitching about anything. Unless it's about something from OTHER talkbacks, such as, hum, CERTAIN evolving SOMETHING of "wink wink".

  • Feb. 14, 2005, 11:45 p.m. CST

    Another rader

    by BillEmic

    I read books too. Although I have to admit - please don't persecute me - that I've grown somewhat weary of Palahniuk's writing style. As the reviewer even mentioned, it often feels like it's just Chuck talking...the characters are almost inconsequential. I still love "Inivislbe Monsters" but everything after "Choke" has just felt like a retread.

  • Feb. 15, 2005, 8:18 a.m. CST

    Balls

    by Darth Kong

  • Feb. 15, 2005, 12:41 p.m. CST

    i hate to say it, but his last two books were terrible

    by MiltonWaddams

    really really really terrible.

  • Feb. 15, 2005, 4:40 p.m. CST

    A Question

    by Homer Sexual

    I have been reading his books out of sequence. For example, am currently reading "Invisible Monsters." I know "Diary" is one of his two most recent works (and my least favorite because it was the only Chuck P. book that has been done before, lots of times) but what is the other one? ps. "Lullaby" is my favorite! And I read that "Survivor" is being made into a movie. That should be great if Fincher or someone else with the right sensibility does it.

  • Feb. 15, 2005, 6:36 p.m. CST

    this guy = jackass

    by Jack D. Ripper

    What a pretentious and self-important writing style. Just give us the straight dope and stop with the tangents and "cool" prose, i.e. second person writing. God, what a cock this kid is

  • Feb. 15, 2005, 8:58 p.m. CST

    Im with jack d ripper...

    by Darth Kal-El

    i couldnt follow that damn "review" for shit! i just gave up and decided ill read the back copy from the novel itself.im sure that would be a ton more informative than an open ended letter to chuck p. and to the reviewer- "you are not your fucking 'cool' writing style"

  • Feb. 15, 2005, 10:39 p.m. CST

    Hm

    by BillEmic

    I'm beginning to wonder if the only reason I loved "Invisible Monsters" was because it was the first novel I'd read by Chuck. Everything I've read after it has felt like a retread. Although the first twenty or so pages of "Survivor" do rock.

  • Feb. 19, 2005, 11:49 p.m. CST

    Great So Far

    by WolfmanNards

    I just recieved a preview copy of Haunted. So far- AWESOME. And, yes, it has GUTS in it. In fact, it opens with GUTS.