An artist’s work is indicative of the type of person who made it, so I was only mildly surprised when Chuck Palahniuk appeared in front of the audience dressed like a barefoot Dumbledore in a shiny red robe, pajamas and a bejeweled scarf, telling us that if we didn’t blow up our beach balls he would berate us.
Palahniuk’s eccentric personality and twisted sense of humour translates into bestselling transgressive fiction. He has written 13 successful novels, two books of nonfiction, as well as a bizarre collection of short fiction.
Inside the John Dutton Theatre, at the Calgary Public Library’s central library, each audience member was handed two glow sticks and a beach ball to blow up. The point was to write questions on these balls, which would then be hurled around in the dark to ’60s music. True to his word, Palahniuk walked up and down the aisles to make sure every ball was inflated.
“The world is filled with beautiful, heartwarming stories, but tonight will not be,” he said.
Palahniuk wasn’t interested in answering typical questions or giving conventional responses. He selected the most entertaining or unusual questions and offered thoughtful answers. He provided the audience with real insight into his process, experiences and perspectives. It was an intimate experience, where the audience had the opportunity to see the person behind the literature as opposed to a distant and intimidating creative figure.
Palahniuk is every bit as demented as I hoped he would be. When asked how he would write his own death he responded by saying “I would eat the still-beating heart of Anne Coulter” with barely disguised glee.
For the actual literary portion of the evening, Palahniuk read his hilariously grotesque story “Guts” from Haunted and treated the audience to something new as well. He read a piece titled “Zombie,” which will be published in Playboy — which he alleged is one of the only magazines willing to publish him. It was written in the familiar and almost absurd Palahniuk style, but with an unexpected and insightful social commentary on the way culture makes youth apathetic.
It was obvious that Palahniuk was invested in giving his audience a totally unique experience, even if it bordered on gimmickry. At various points throughout the evening he hurled full packages of candy at the audience and small stuffed cats. It became an interactive event. The candy was passed around the theatre and people jumped at the opportunity to catch something or have their glowing ball noticed.
His humour bordered on bad taste, but Palahniuk is self-aware and is charismatic enough to pull it off. Plus one could argue that with novels like Choke and Snuff, he has made a career out of bad taste.