A Book of a Different Format: Cassie-la Explores ‘Invisible Monsters Remix’ by Chuck Palahniuk

Invisible Monsters Remix Chuck PalahniukInvisible Monsters Remix by Chuck Palahniuk
Genre: Fiction, dark humor, transgender, models, director’s cut- AKA author’s cut
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Summary: After getting her jaw blown off by a stray bullet, our narrator, a former model, goes on a road trip of self-discovery in the Brandy Alexander Witness Reincarnation Project. Led by the the Queen Supreme, transgendered Brandy Alexander, Palahniuk explores the coincidences of life and the desire to break the mold. This newly re-worked edition contains new chapters and a completely new non-linear format.

We’ve all seen extended edition and director’s cuts of movies, but this is the first time I have ever come across an author’s cut of a book.

With this hardcover release of Chuck Palahniuk’s third published novel (but his first in terms of writing), he took the opportunity to change the linear format that was originally published in 1999 and release it the way he initially envisioned it. The intention was to give the reader the feel of literally getting lost inside the book, as one would be with a Vogue magazine. Which you have to admit is kind of perfect for a novel centered around beauty, perceptions and transformation. Sadly no Madonna songs though.

So how exactly is this achieved? The narrative flips the reader around from chapter to chapter (41, 1, 40, 2, 39, 4, 38, 5, 37, 6, etc.) with the instructions at the end of each chapter to, “Now, Please Jump to Chapter …” So polite. This makes things intriguing, because unlike in a typical book where a dwindling number of pages signals the end is coming, you don’t know exactly when Invisible Monsters Remix will reach its climax. And as with the original Invisible Monsters, the narrative itself skips around in time, so you will be well and truly lost in the events while you read.

It’s a non-linear format inside a non-linear format, a mirror image. It couldn’t be produced as intended initially, but now at least it can be read and enjoyed by Chuck’s legion of fans.

One downside to this format, is that you might inadvertently see key bits of information as you flip through from chapter to chapter. This will lead you to wonder exactly how the narrative could lead there, so at least it’s not a total spoiler. Think of it as a darker version of How I Met Your Mother, but more akin to, How I Lost My Face.

Page numbers would probably be easier for a reader to navigate from place to place, but I imagine it would be a logistics nightmare in terms of publishing every time the book gets re-released or the format is changed. This way at least is manageable for everyone except a dyslexic like myself, but let’s be honest, page numbers would be even more difficult to follow.

While the original novel was published in a straightforward manner to please readers and make it more marketable, this version is Palahniuk’s original vision. Due to this, in addition to jumping around from chapter to chapter, there are also additional chapters outside this “straightforward” narrative. Twelve to be exact, split up into three sections which instruct the reader to loop between chapters over and over again. For example chapter 3 to chapter 16 to chapter 30 to chapter 3. Lather, rinse, repeat. Even after you’re done with the main story there’s even more to discover. We’re back to the Vogue magazine idea here.

Most of these side stories deal with the process of revision and re-imagining famous movies, as Chuck did with this novel, while others detail where our narrator is now (after her story). These sections are all new additions to the original novel, and some chapters are even written backwards, forcing you to read the words in a mirror. It’s a pain, but there is a purpose about reflections and mirrors and being forced to look at yourself while you read. You’re reading while watching yourself read while you read… You get the picture. It’s the idea of multiple reflections which function the same as the chapters that repeat on a loop. Where does it all begin and end? So many moebius strips, so little time.

The third and most interesting of these narrative diversions contains biographical stories about Chuck’s own life. There are three separate stories in this loop, one which deals with a road trip that inspired this novel, one about when he was writing his first manuscript and a third about being on set for the film of his novel turned movie Choke. Since the fictional story deals so much with impossible sounding coincidences (even though our world is a small one), Chuck shares some of his own coincidences in these stories, from a shared memory between him and a friend he hadn’t met yet, to the death of the mother he wrote about correlating to his own mother’s death and all the coincidences in between. They’re poignant, beautiful and most importantly true.

As with most of Chuck P. novels, there is a repetitive element throughout the narrative. Where in Fight Club it was “I am Jack’s” insert organ of the body here (my personal favorite is “raging bile duct”), this story also has a similar narrative trick.

In this novel, weaved throughout is the flash of a camera taking photos with a wide variety of emotions being yelled out as if by a fashion photographer. The most memorable line being, “Give me lust, baby. Flash. Give me malice. Flash. Give me detached existentialist ennui. Flash.” There are also paragraphs starting with the phrase, “Jump to…” to tell the reader that the story is once again jumping in time and location. Spoiler alert: this happens more than in a Doctor Who episode.

There are plenty of reasons why this new structure works so well in this choose your own adventure type chapter hopping format, but I appreciate it even more for what it says about life. The end of a book generally doesn’t signal the end of a character’s life, unless you’re reading a historical fiction novel, and Palahniuk knows that. So rather than bring the end of the narrator’s story to the end of the novel, he wisely ends it somewhere in the middle, where stories generally leave their protagonists on their journey through life. Bravo on that Chuck.

THE GOOD

  • Format is entirely different than anything I’ve come across
  • More than just the main story, but other stories hidden within the chapters
  • Full of coincidences, which Chuck shows us is not mere fodder for the plot
  • All the fun of the original novel with a meaningful new way to read it

THE BAD

  • Backwards chapters were a pain to read, was warned this might happen to anyone over 22

I am over the moon excited that Chuck Palahniuk has put out not one but two fantastic novels in a row. Just when I was losing faith he came along with Damned (read review here) and announced this author’s cut, which was everything I hoped for but didn’t think possible. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, welcome back Mr. Palahniuk!

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