Meet Shannon Mc Farland: in one night, she goes from atop the world to underneath it. Now, as anyone who’s read a Palahniuk novel knows, the problem is not giving away the twist, and dancing around this one is going to be difficult. This novel is about the bonds of love and friendship and the illusion of outward appearances. It touches on desperation, toxic families, and hatred: it does a bit more than flirt with suicide. For those of us with triggers related to drug use, gun use, physical abuse, self-harm, and what I can only term “unintentionally transgender” (some of the characters refer to themselves as drag queens, as well, but some characters are presented as wanting to actually be a different gender, and those delving far into the book will discover why the “unintentional” applies) – well, this book will make you uncomfortable no matter what triggers you, but I don’t believe it will do it maliciously. Palahniuk’s works are always like standing astride a chasm with your arms full and daring yourself to walk the line. Eventually, you’re going to fall in, and until you do, you’ll be afraid. That’s the reality of everything he writes. I’m going to consider you warned now and move on.
“Don’t expect this to be the kind of story that goes: and then, and then, and then.”
This novel is narrated in a dreamlike haze of drugs, and through a veil. It’s edgy, and also incredibly familiar. At its heart, it is the story of coming in second best in everything, forever, but that’s related to the twist so we’re not going any farther there. This is a difficult work to review, and I’m sorry I can’t tell you much about it. I can tell you that it ought to be a classic, that the language inside it sings, that the characters will both revile you and crawl into your heart to live there. It’s set in California and Canada, with a brief pit stop in Portland – I can tell you that. I can tell you that it brushes over the country in which we invent the people we become – both in and outside of our own heads. Like Choke, it has a sexual undertone to it, but this one isn’t desperate, it’s wistful. Part of the story hinges on Brandy Alexander, Queen Supreme, who wasn’t born her gender, but is an operation away from it, whether she wants it or not. The rest rides on Shannon’s shoulders, and Shannon has issues with sex that are rather fundamentally unique. She used to be a model, but a gunshot to the face left her without a jaw. So does the third party in the story, an aging police detective with a penchant for the forbidden. Nobody in this story is exactly what they seem.
There is no happy ending to this story. I felt it ended where it should have begun. (But then, isn’t that what all the good books do?) Nothing solves the loneliness that Shannon grapples with, or the giant mess that Brandy Alexander has survived. And there’s a lot of fire and a lot of screaming and quite a bit of casual violence. The story can be difficult to follow, particularly since Brandy and Shannon rename their “driver” quite often – always in associated pairs, like Hewlett Packard and Eberhard Faber. It is, however, a trip worth taking. You might find yourself along the way.