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6 Authors like Chuck Palahniuk: Sublimely Written Subversion

Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorThe first rule of Chuck Palahniuk is: you don’t talk about Chuck Palahniuk… but when it comes to authors like Chuck Palahniuk, you can talk until your heart’s content. For more of the same wry, insightful and eloquent prose, check out Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo or Edward St Auben.
~ Jonny Sweet

The All-Singing, All-Dancing, All-Writing Crap of the World

Of course, the book which catapulted Palahniuk to literary stardom and cemented his place as one of the most stimulating authors of his generation was the wildly successful ‘Fight Club’, which interestingly enough only achieved moderate critical success and a handful of off-the-shelf sales.

That was, of course, until David Fincher’s film adaptation came out… which also only achieved moderate critical success and a handful of box office sales. That was, of course, until the DVD edition came out, when all of the fanboys and cult followers sprouted from the woodwork and made the film (and by extension, the book) the modern classic that it is today.

Obviously, it would be unfair and quite simply ludicrous to reduce Palahniuk’s career to just one novel, especially when his canon contains such other irresistibly repulsive reads as ‘Choke’, ‘Survivor’ and ‘Lullaby’, to name but a few. However, all of his novels do seem to share some basic aspects: a marginalised, unhappy protagonist, a general disillusionment with society, a propagation of subversive and absurdist theories on life and oodles and oodles of violence and trauma.

Indeed, in his own words, Palahniuk uses these tools to try and shock the reader into thinking, feeling, reacting. “You can’t manipulate someone into feeling something in a real obvious way anymore,” Palahniuk explained to alternet.org. “People are so aware of devices and they resent them. I blame the movies. God, Forrest Gump was one long emotional handjob.”

Controversial criticism of one of Tom Hanks’ finer works aside, the man is clearly onto something. So much so in fact, that there are a plethora of writers like Chuck Palahniuk which use dissident and provocative subject matter to enthral, engage and sometimes enrage their audience – for a handful of suggestions, check out the list below.

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Authors Similar to Chuck Palahniuk…

Don DeLillo

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Recommended Book: ‘White Noise’ (1985)

In an interview with perival.com, DeLillo underlined his belief that literature must challenge accepted norms, stimulate independent thought and attempt to subvert authority. “Writers must oppose systems. It’s important to write against power, corporations, the state, and the whole system of consumption and of debilitating entertainments… I think writers, by nature, must oppose things, oppose whatever power tries to impose on us.”

Clearly such a line of thinking is entirely in tune with the man who penned a novel as anti-consumerist and anti-authority as ‘Fight Club’, so for anyone looking for an author like Chuck Palahniuk, DeLillo may well be your man.

Similarity Match: 90%
Both Palahniuk and DeLillo attempt to challenge authority through their works, but whereas the former’s is often absurd and extreme in its plot and ideas, the latter is far more true to real life and its immediate concerns.

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Thomas Pynchon

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Recommended Book: ‘The Crying of Lot 49’ (1966)

Pynchon’s prose is as frantic and full of astute wordplay as any you’re likely to come across. The pandemonium and chaos which characterises his work is a cleverly constructed conceit on the world which he describes and satirises: namely, the degradation and soullessness of modern day America.

Plus, his middle name is Ruggles. If that’s not a worthy reason to give his work a chance, I don’t know what is.

Similarity Match: 85%
Though not quite as dark, violent or depressing as Palahniuk’s style, Pynchon commentates upon similar themes of disillusionment and decadence, often using more convoluted and complex imagery and techniques.

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Irvine Welsh

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Recommended Book: ‘Filth’ (1998)

Of course, Welsh has (deservedly) received all of his plaudits for the highly influential ‘Trainspotting’ series, including from yours truly. If you weren’t aware that there was a prequel and a sequel to the fantastic book adapted into Scotland’s finest film ever made, drop everything and read all three immediately (although if you’re not a native of Scotland, you may struggle with Welsh’s colloquial prose).

However, for those more familiar with his work, ‘Filth’ is a great alternative option which puts the world of police corruption under the literary microscope.  

Similarity Match: 80%
Welsh and Palahniuk share many similarities – not least their dubious attitudes to authority and their unflinching portrayals of the more unpleasant aspects of human life – but differ greatly in style, language and structure.

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Kurt Vonnegut

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Recommended Book: ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ (1969)

Deeply affected by his participation in WWII, Vonnegut spent the remainder of his life contriving deliciously satirical commentaries on the atrocities of war, the inhumanity of politicians who command it and the absurdity of religion used to justify it.

‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ is undoubtedly the most famous example of this brilliantly-worded indignation, but Vonnegut has a rich back catalogue for those thirsting for more novels to throw themselves headlong into.

Similarity Match: 80%
Both Palahniuk and Vonnegut are angry and vocal critics of the modern state of American society, but the latter’s views were influenced heavily by a global war – whereas the former often points out the absence of a similar significant struggle plaguing today’s society.

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If You Like Chuck Palahniuk, You Will Like…

All of the authors mentioned above rely upon articulate but often abstract or extreme methods of captivating their readership and building their success. However, things don’t have to be quite so murky and macabre to evoke a similar response after putting down a book.

For some equally brilliant works which approach the genre from a different angle, check out the couple of other suggestions below.

Edward St Auben

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Recommended Book: ‘The Patrick Melrose Series’ (2012)

Originally published as five separate novels, St Auben’s series focusing on Patrick Melrose comprise the lion’s share of his entire work and take the reader on a semi-autobiographical journey through the depravity and vice of upper-class life in 20th and 21st century England.

As well as fixating on these issues, the author also uses incredibly apt metaphors and turns of phrase to describe such difficult subjects as child abuse, drug addiction and alcoholism.

Both St Auben and Palahniuk deal with the debauchery of humanity – but whereas the latter focuses on the dregs of society, St Auben reflects how such iniquity exists in its apparent upper echelons, as well.

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Paul Auster

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Recommended Book: ‘The New York Trilogy’ (1985-86)

These three discrete but apparently inter-connected tales of paranoia and amateur sleuthery all take place against the familiar backdrop of the Big Apple. In each, the characters become increasingly alienated with the society around them (as often happens in Palahniuk’s work) until finally they are entirely ostracised – but whether they or society have instigated the isolation is unclear.

Auster deals with similar themes of marginalisation and disenchantment as Palahniuk, but his works are often dark and disturbing in a more insidious manner than the latter’s visceral and graphic imagery.

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Honourable Mentions

Of course, with time at a premium, there simply isn’t enough time to recognise all of the authors which resemble, influence or have been influenced by Palahniuk’s genius. A quick nod in the direction of these others will cover some more bases, but there are still plenty left untouched:

  • Bret Easton Ellis. The savagery of the storyline of ‘American Psycho’ and the subtle satire it veils about society is a dead ringer for much of Palahniuk’s work.
  • Denis Johnson. Palahniuk himself has admitted to being influenced by Johnson’s writings, among several other authors. As such, Johnson can be seen as something of a precursor to Palahniuk’s vital energy and pessimism.
  • Ben Elton. Often labelled as an “angry young man” by the media, Elton’s novels such as ‘Popcorn’, ‘This Other Eden’ and ‘Gridlock’ reflect a British version of Palahniuk’s eloquent antipathy.
  • Philip Roth. Characterised by a focus on all things Jewish, Philip Roth’s work contains similarly sardonic views on American society.

Do You Read Everything You’re Supposed to Read?

Warning: If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life. Don’t you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can’t think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all that claim it? Do you read everything you’re supposed to read? Do you think every thing you’re supposed to think? Buy what you’re told to want? Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned.

These immortal lines from ‘Fight Club’ sum up what that book – and indeed the majority of Palahniuk’s writings – are about. So have you read everything you are supposed to read? Have you read even more? Instead of doing something as ghastly and drastic as quitting your job or starting a fight, why not seek meaning by contributing to the comments section of a pop culture recommendations website… such as this one?

The comments box below is waiting for you to do your thing.

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