You’re told to never judge a book by its cover. I’m glad I never listened to that, or I may never have discovered one of my favorite authors.
Sometime around 6th or 7th grade, a friend of mine was reading the book Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk on the bus ride home. (This was either 2000 or 2001, so the Fight Club film adaptation had already been in theaters, but it existed in a world completely separate from my own.) I’d never heard of Palahniuk before, but ohmanohman did I love the cover art for Invisible Monsters.
I had no idea what the book was about, and I didn’t know what “Birds ate my face” meant, but I knew it was something I needed in my life.
I borrowed the book after my friend finished reading it, and was instantly hooked. (To this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite books.) Palahniuk became a staple in my life, and to this day he’s one of the (very) few authors I still buy the physical copy of his books, rather than the Kindle version. I understand that I’ve outgrown the age demographic, and not everything hits like it used to, but I feel like I owe it to the man who was such a transformative influence on my life.
Palahniuk’s latest book, Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread, is not on par with Invisible Monsters. It doesn’t have to be, though, and it doesn’t necessarily try to be. Make Something Up is a collection of short stories, many of which Palahniuk diehards have probably read elsewhere online. The Palahniuk book this most closely resembles is Haunted, but this lacks the (from what I remember) throwaway throughline that brought you from one short story to the next.
Not every short story in Make Something Up is worth your time. In fact, as a whole, the book is pretty hit-or-miss. There are flashes of brilliance, to be sure, but then you find yourself slogging through a story that’s straight out of the 1800s, that Palahniuk (maybe?) wrote just to prove he could. There are three stories where every character is an anthropomorphized animal. Why? I don’t know! (To be fair, they’re kind of charming and funny and a little silly, so I don’t altogether have a big problem with those.)
What I do have a big problem with is the MULTIPLE references to Fight Club. I can see these each being silly, knowing asides to fans of his work, but when you stack all these short stories up next to each other, they come a little too fast to be enjoyable. I counted at least four; there are probably more. I guess it’s true what they say: everything is just a copy of a copy of a copy.
There are great stories, along with some (one in particular) that reveal the gross-out Palahniuk of old that many of his fans firs came to know and love. The amount of great stories outnumbers the amount of bad ones, with most of the rest falling somewhere in the middle. Like I said above, if you love Palahniuk, you’ve probably read at least some of these (Knock-Knock, Zombies, and Phoenix, among others) somewhere else. If you’re more of a casual fan but like his style, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
Overall, Make Something Up is worth your time, but also just barely so. I understand this isn’t a great verdict for a review site, but it’s hard to judge a collection of stories with a single yes/no! My life is so tough.
If you want to read the best stories and skip the rest, check these out:
- Red Sultan’s Big Boy
- Cold Calling