By Chuck Palahniuk
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I'm not a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk's novels. That is a little odd since I will concede that technically he is one of the best writers alive. As i have often said, he writes like a sumofabitch. Yet he is also unrelenting in his nihilism and creates characters that are void of passion and hope. The pessimism and feeling of existential void that permeates his writing tends to be overpowering. I don't think I have ever rated one of his novels more than two stars. It says a lot about the writer, and perhaps me, that in Fight Club, the only interesting and sympathetic character is the imaginary one!
But his short fiction is another matter entirely. In the shorter format, horrific elements play out faster. The shock of the plot (there is always a shocking plot) carry you through and you will find yourself riveted, maybe grossed out but, above all else, entertained. You will also have more time to contemplate just what is Palahniuk trying to say and why did they let him out of the asylum.
Phoenix is one of those marvelous Kindle Singles. At about 30 pages even the slowest reader should finish it in an hour. But it packs a wallop. It features a dysfunctional family and a strange, perhaps psycho, mom. She is away from home and all she wants to do is hear her blind daughter's voice over the phone. She seems to blame all her misfortunes on others which is never a good sign in a story or, for that matter, in real life. In an odd way, it reminds me of the great short story, The Yellow Wallpaper with the roles reversed. Palahniuk's short fiction is clearly horrific but stays with you like the throbbing pain of a hammer-smashed finger.
Perhaps one day Palahniuk may write a novel that gives me the same goose-bumps and dread that his short fiction does. But if you are someone like me who find his novels a bit too much, or a novice reader who simply wants to check out the king of gross, then Phoenix is a good way to put your toe in the muck.