Becoming an Invisible Monster

The most horrifying stories, according to Chuck Palahniuk, are those that could happen. And the greatest monsters are the invisible ones living within us. He explores this in the reincarnation of his novel, Invisible Monsters, now published as Invisible Monsters, Remix.

It’s a bit like On the Road, with less booze, more painkillers, and a ton of hormone drugs. The novel opens with a building on fire, an enraged, half-naked bride waving a gun and a bloody shoot out. The narrator is a beautiful model who appears to have had a beautiful life. Great looks, good work, a best friend, and a fiancé. And yet she’s a part of this landscape of broken dreams and murder. How did she get there? Well, there’s the fun.

Shannon McFarland is horribly disfigured in an accident and must learn how to speak again, as her jaw is missing. Birds carried it away. She loses the ability to speak, her fiancé, her apartment, and her best friend steals her clothes (and jobs). She then meets the beautiful and seductive Brandy Alexander, Queen Supreme while they are in physical rehab. Brandy is constantly reinventing her persona, and all those around her. After meeting Brandy, Shannon becomes Daisy St. Patience.

There are so many plots and twists and turns. You think you know who one character is and yet you don’t. They change, with such sudden force that you can’t keep up. Add to that the layout of the novel and you’re quite lost. Almost as lost as Shannon, aka Daisy St. Patience after her accident. She keeps secrets from the reader just as she refused to acknowledge the truth to herself. We learn her story piece-meal, chapter by chapter, bit by bit. We jump from chapter to chapter and only at the conclusion do you suspect that this narrative form is a trick. You’ve skipped some chapters, and so you start again, marking chapters you’ve read, jumping from page to page, hunting for those last pages that should reveal something, anything that will complete the book (and your sense of self).

Shannon, aka Daisy St. Patience, distances herself from her family to make a new one. Her parents kick out her brother for being gay and later discover that he died of AIDS. She is jealous of her dead brother because he gets so much attention. Her parents change their mind about their gay son and join PFLAG and march in the Pride Parade. They spend all their time on their dead son and ignore their living daughter. They don’t even notice that she disappears after the accident, nor do they know what happened to her. They never visit her in the hospital. This family is so lost: they are all invisible to one another. No one knows who the other person is, where they are, or what they are doing. They only focus on the others in relation to themselves.

While reading this book, you are forced to acknowledge yourself and your role as the reader in many capacities. You read a re-introduction to the novel by the author who asks you to skip over 3/4 of the book and begin with chapter 41. At the end of chapter 41, you are asked to jump to chapter 1. This goes on with every chapter, the author guides you through the novel. Back and forth, until finally you think you have reached the end. But you are highly aware that somehow you have skipped the three chapters that have been printed backwards. And so you search for those chapters. The ones that Palahniuk recommends you read in front of  the mirror. So now you’re looking at yourself as you’re reading a novel. Because we don’t get enough reflections of ourselves. As Palahniuk points out, there are so many screens in our lives that show us reflections: televisions, computer monitors, cell phones, windows, etc. So after almost finishing reading a novel about a self-involved model we are now looking at ourselves as we read. Generally when one reads, one forgets about oneself. And yet, Palahniuk is asking us to look at ourselves as we are reading his words. We are placing ourselves in his world. We become this invisible character in the novel. We are that fourth main character that Palahniuk has created.

Invisible Monsters, Remix is an ingenious reincarnation of a previously published work. Palahniuk uses this reprint as an opportunity to revisit and return the novel to what he originally envisioned. Yes, it’s a bit challenging, and yes, you feel a bit lost at times, but that’s the point. And for a novel to create those feelings, for a writer to ask you to physically enter his novel is beautiful.

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