Chuck Palahniuk might be a famous author of such books as Fight Club, Choke and Beautiful You, but he’s still a Tri-City boy at heart.
The best-selling writer plans to return to his roots this month for a couple of book signings.
The first will be at his hometown library in Burbank starting at 6 p.m. Nov. 25. Then he’ll be at Barnes & Noble Booksellers at Columbia Center mall in Kennewick starting at 8 a.m. on Nov. 28.
He also plans to spend some time with his sister, Heidi Weeden of Kennewick, and perhaps pay a visit to the Paper Street Ale House in Richland, which took its name from the Paper Street Soap Co. made famous in Fight Club.
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“My family sent me a clipping about a story in the Herald about a bar named from a reference to my book,” Palahniuk said. “I hope it’s still around. The bar, that is. I’d like to go there.”
At age 52, Palahniuk has come a long way since he left the tiny community of Burbank and headed off to the University of Oregon in the early 1980s.
His first published novel, Fight Club, was a New York Times bestseller later made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. His first novel, however, was Invisible Monsters, which never saw the light of day because publishers thought the story was too disturbing.
Some may think Palahniuk looks at life with a wildly jaundiced eye because his books tackle the darker side of the human spirit. But he disagrees, saying he’s really a romantic at heart.
The disturbing side to his writing is simply his creative way of keeping the reader involved in his story as he taps into the dark, deviant side of the human psyche. After the success of Fight Club, Invisible Monsters was eventually published in 1999 .
“So many writers whom we consider low culture, like Vonnegut who was dismissed as a science fiction writer, or Ira Levin and Stephen King who are dismissed as horror writers, they identified cultural trends and branded them,” Palahniuk said.
“Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby pointed out how little control 1960s women had over their reproductive health,” he said. “King’s Carrie first identified the alienated school shooter.”
In his latest book, Beautiful You, his intent was to create a nonthreatening, safe way to recognize the issue of arousal addiction, he said.
“This book is only superficially about sex toys,” Palahniuk said. “With novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey one could argue that the book itself is a sex toy. Or, in The Stepford Wives the robotic women are sex toys. But in Beautiful You the toys serve as a metaphor for anything in popular culture — video games, drugs, adult films — that over-excite people to the point of addiction.”
Palahniuk has homes in Portland and New York, and spends much of his time at his home in the Columbia Gorge with his husband, Michael. They’ve been together for more than two decades. Palahniuk’s parents, Carol and Fred, divorced when he was a teenager. Both are deceased.
Though he was anxious to leave the area and escape poverty when he was a kid, he still has fond memories of his childhood. One involved meeting starlet Sharon Tate before she became famous.
“The story comes from my mother. During the 1960s, our regular babysitter, Janet, brought a friend of hers to our house,” he said. “My only memory of that afternoon is a lovely, blonde woman, apparently Sharon Tate. It was around the time she’d won the title of Miss Water Follies. Soon enough Janet and Sharon ventured down to Hollywood to try their luck in the movies.”
The cautionary tale throughout his childhood, he added, was that only Janet came back. Tate was murdered in Los Angeles in 1969 by Charles Manson and his followers.
Among his fondest memories of the Tri-Cities is, oddly enough, the architecture, he said.
“My father would take us to Big Pasco and explain the buildings and lookout towers related to the military,” he said. “He showed us how the retired Japanese-American man known as Peanuts spent years building and planting gardens in some of the ruined bays of the Pasco roundhouse, and cultivated the beautiful lily ponds that ran between the Pasco cemetery and the old ice house. Likewise, the pink marble rotunda of the Franklin County Courthouse always impressed me. And, Peanuts himself is a very fond memory, and someone I’ve written about for National Public Radio.”
What he misses most about Burbank is having so much family in such close proximity.
“Every holiday drew together 40 people, and every week there was a birthday to celebrate,” Palahniuk said. “Nowadays, my surviving relatives live all over the world. My sister once remarked to (our) mother, ‘We haven’t done badly for poor white trash.’ Hearing that, my mother was devastated. My parents had worked so hard and gotten by on so little. They never considered themselves as either poor or trash.”
But those childhood memories aren’t the only thing that has made an impact on his literary soul. He sees fiction writing as a means to discover and explore parts of his imagination. He credits his writing teacher, Tom Spanbauer, with advocating the idea that nothing a writer puts into fiction is arbitrary.
“Every aspect of the work, from the general theme to the color of a character’s clothing, betrays something about the writer,” he said. “With that in mind, so often I write a funny, glib story only to realize months after publication that it contains my darkest unresolved fears. Henry James said, ‘The novelist sells for two dollars to strangers the secrets he’d never tell his closest friends.’ That’s a rough paraphrasing, but that’s the gist.”
If there’s one thing Palahniuk wishes he’d done differently with his life, it would have been getting to know his grandparents better.
“I wish I’d spent more time engaged with my grandparents Joseph and Ruth Tallent, who had a small farm on Erdman Lane overlooking the Snake River in Burbank Heights,” he said. “And, learning more about family and community history. We were all so eager to sprint into the future that we forgot to keep track of our past.”