October 16, 2010

Queer Review: Invisible Monsters

Invisible Monsters is by Chuck Palahniuk, the same author who wrote the novel Fight Club. Readers of both will readily identify the extraordinarily chaotic, yet still, somehow, understandable narrative that marks each book.

The plot of Invisible Monsters is revealed piecemeal, non-chronologically, through the eyes of a former beauty obsessed model, now hideously deformed "monster", by the name of Shannon McFarmland. After Shannon's life is nearly destroyed through an unexpected accident (the lower part of her face is shot off), she meets Queen Brandy Alexander, a former male on the last stages of a gender reassignment procedure. Wishing to escape her life, Shannon joins with Brandy in hopes of escaping the hideous monster that she now has become. Because no one will now look at her, Shannon steals a chicken from a supermarket, just to see what would happen.

What follows is strange journey through America as Shannon, Brandy, and their male escort Seth, that is like Alice In Wonderland minus the fantasy elements and the weirdness raised to the highest possible level, plus a few more. In short, this book is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended.

The plot is a lot more complicated then the preceding description would imply, but there are a lot of violent plot twists and daring turns, a few of which I was able to guess at, though mostly I failed to see coming. This is the type of story that works best when one finds out those twist and turns for oneself.

There are plenty of themes and ideas that Palahniuk analyzes, deconstructs and willfully attacks, sledgehammer swinging merrily away. An ongoing theme revolves around the visibility of "beautiful people" in our culture versus the way plain people are usually just ignored, thus leading to the extreme lengths people will go to either become more beautiful or retain their good looks as old age advances. Invisible Monsters is a truly fascinating work, that says a lot about how outward appearance can shape one's inner identity and the impact of societal perceptions.

The usual cliches apply "Invisible Monsters is a real page turner" or "I couldn't put it down" or "a modern masterpiece", which is ironic in a way, as Palahniuk is not the sort of writer who deals with cliches or predictable plot points. In the end, I found this to be a rare combination of smart writing that contains more then a few visceral gut punches. Invisible, this book should not be.

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