Portland, Oregon,and its surrounding communities, is a hotbed of creativity. From music, to visual art, to film making to creative writing. Something about living here in this beautifully, weird city brings out the creativity in many. Chuck Palaniuk, author of Fight Club, Choke, Survivor and many other disturbingly, beautiful books, has called Vancouver, Washington his home for the last twenty years.
While not technically a Portlander, Chuck Palaniuk can often be seen here doing readings and signings at venues ranging from Powell’s Books to the University of Portland.
Born in Pasco, Washington to Carol Adele and Fred Palahniuk, he grew up in a mobile home in Burbank, Washington. When he was fourteen, his parents separated and later divorced, which often left him and his three siblings to live with their maternal grandparents at a cattle ranch in the eastern part of Washington state.
Palahniuk graduated from the University of Oregon School of Journalism in 1986.He moved to Portland, Oregon soon after. During this time, he briefly wrote for the local paper and moonlighted at Freightliner, where he met his partner. They have lived together for twenty years.
During his time at Freightliner, he wrote manuals on fixing trucks in addition to his stint as a journalist. He quit his job as a journalist in 1988 and did not return to that profession (in a freelance capacity) until after he had made a name for himself as a successful novelist. Palaniuk volunteered for a homeless shelter.He volunteered for hospice, providing transportation to support meetings for the terminally ill patients. These support meetings became an integral part of his first novel, Fight Club. He ceased volunteering upon the death of a patient to whom he had grown attached.
His work is not “easy reading”, nor is it for the faint of heart or the easily offended. In his early work, marginalized members of society typically react with self-destructive aggressiveness. Palaniuk labels these stories transgressional fiction. Beginning with Lullaby, the style of his novels transformed to, what could best be described as, satirical horror stories.
Typically, his books start at the temporal end of the story, with the protagonist relating the events that led up to that point. Palaniuk is known for his major plot twists, which relate in some way to this temporal end (Palahniuk refers to these plot twists as “the hidden gun”).
His favorite authors include Amy Hempel, Bret Easton Ellis and Albert Camus.
Linguistically, his stories are simple: alimited vocabulary and short sentences, which sound the way you or I would tell a story. In an interview, he said that he “prefers to write in verbs instead of adjectives”. Repetitions of certain lines in his stories (“choruses”) are another of the common features of his writing, being dispersed within most chapters of his novels. The color cornflower blue and the city of Missoula also appear in many of his novels. His characters often break into philosophical tangents offering strangeopinions and philosophies, usuallycynical or darkly absurdist in nature, on issues such as death, childhood, parenthood, God, sexuality, and morality.
His non-fiction work, however, almost always relates to Portland, Oregon (he has an entire collection of essays about this great city), explicitly or implicitly. He has also interviewed many famous individuals, including Marilyn Manson and Julliette Lewis.
Love him or hate him, Palaniuk brings Portland, Oregon to life with his work. He speaks with a point of view and an affection for this great city. If you play your cards right, you may just catch him around town. Say hi. He’s a lot nicer than his written works would lead you to believe.