is a unique collection of short stories by Chuck Palahniuk
. Seventeen unusual people
, all of whom happen to be writers
, sign up to attend a three-month writer's workshop courtesy of the mysterious Mr. Whittier. Acting on assumption necessities of toothpaste and toilet roll will be available, each writer brings a suitcase each of personal items
Given the ultimatum that leaving is not an option until the three months are up, the writers quickly learn that there's no escape and no help coming; under this knowledge, they instead concoct the ruse that they're all martyrs and victims trapped by Mr. Whittier, and begin to destroy themselves (both mentally and physically) between telling highly dramatized versions of their own life stories. What results is a deconstruction
of reality TV shows, and a whole lot of squick
Whilst it never becomes clear how much of their backstories are true or made up, expect most of them to have Body Horror
, Nausea Fuel
, Nightmare Fuel
and/or Rape as Drama
. It should also be noted that, whilst some of the tales seem downright impossible, quite a few are very closely based on real events.
The novel's first chapter, "Guts
", was published in Playboy magazine well before the book came out proper presumably as a warning
. Palahniuk did readings of it during his worldwide book tour for Diary
. Over 80 people fainted
This book contains examples of:
- Adam and Eve Plot: The end of Mr. Whittier's second story, "Obsolete". It's never clarified if it's really happening in-universe or it's just a story he made up.
- All-Natural Snake Oil: Discussed in "Foot Work."
"All those cures and remedies that claim to be 100-percent natural ingredients, therefore 100-percent safe, Angelique laughs. She says, Cyanide is natural. So is arsenic.
- Already Met Everyone / Forgotten First Meeting: A few times, it seems like characters from one story will show up in another.
- For example, in "The Nightmare Box" one of the people in the art gallery is described as having a ponytail and chewing gum... Just like The Duke of Vandals, who is perpetually chewing nicotine gum and, as an artist, would have a lot of reason to be hanging around an art gallery.
- Artifact of Doom: The Nightmare Box, possibly.
- Anyone Can Die: Lady Baglady, Duke of Vandals, Comrade Snarky, Miss America, The Matchmaker, Missing Link, Mrs. Clark, and Miss Sneezy. Most likely the rest of the cast as well if the ending is anything to go by...
- Arc Words: Onstage, instead of a spotlight, a movie fragment...
- "The camera behind the camera behind the camera."
- "The mythology of us."
- Numerous lesser examples, phrases repeated in a new context to give a new, often darker meaning. This is a recurring theme in Chuck's work.
- Babies Make Everything Better: When Missing Link discusses the idea of people protesting births, Mother Nature and Saint Gut-Free comment that "babies are wonderful."
- Back from the Dead: Mr. Whittier faked his death and watched the rest of the writers' ordeal from hiding.
- Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Mrs. Clark.
- Beware the Silly Ones: Mother Nature, who aside from cutting herself to appear more sympathetic and pretends to be love with Saint Gut-Free because 'every good story needs a romance plot', doesn't really do much through out the book. Up until the last chapter where she stabs Miss Sneezy and drags her corpse back inside, all so her and Saint Gut-Free can stay in longer and get the most fame for when they're found. If they ever get found
- Black and Grey Morality: Good. Gravy. Absolutely NO ONE in this book gets off clean. The closest thing to a "good guy" we get is Ms. Clark and she murdered her daughter.
- There's also Miss America. Even though she's a catty bitch, the worst things she does is state Comrade Snarky is dead when she's only fainted (though whether she intended to is dubious) and she eats eat Cora Reynolds the cat for no real reason.
- Miss Sneezy is also fairly innocent. However, the thing that needs to be kept in mind is that, with the exception of Ms. Clark, even the ones who don't dirty their hands just stand by while it happens.
- Black Humor: Some parts of the book can be [[YMMV construed]] this way.
- Body Horror: Several instances. At one point, several characters want to seem the biggest victim, and they begin to compete in self-mutilation.
- The Baroness Frostbite applies from the beginning; her mouth has already been reduced to a greasy hole without lips due to...guess.
- Brown Note: A Real Life one, if you can believe it. Chuck has read the short story "Guts" several times while promoting the book, and almost everytime, someone has fainted. There's also accounts of others reading this story to their peers with similar effects. Oddly, New Yorkers seem to be immune to the story's effect.
- As an anonymous audience member responded when Palahniuk expressed surprise that no one had fainted: "*snort* This is New York."
- Bubble Boy: Inverted. Miss Sneezy describes herself as the opposite of this phenomena.
- Callousness Towards Emergency: During Mr. Whittier's alleged death everyone is trying to think of some way they can speed the process along, rather than try to help.
- Characters as Device: When the writers decide that they would rather sell their collective story than their own personal tales, they begin talking about who will fulfill which role in the story (Sacrificial Lamb, Romance Arc, etc.).
- Granola Girl: Mother Nature, who (despite being young) is pretty much a full-on hippie neck-deep in the 21st century and in 21st century New Age movements.
- Groin Attack: Director Denial's story describes how a fellow Social Worker became so fed up with the local cops having sex with the anatomically-correct dolls she used with sex crime victims that she put razor blades in its orifices. Not to mention the Matchmaker's story. Shoo-rook.
- How the Matchmaker dies, in an attempt to make himself the most sympathetic.
- Ill Girl: Miss Sneezy
- Improbable Weapon User: Bowling ball?
- Incurable Cough of Death: Discussed, as everyone notes Miss Sneezy has poor health due to her sneezing all the time, and that she'd make a great martyr for their story. Also Double Subverted as, in reality, she sneezes all the time because her sinuses are wrecked from her past; carrying a deadly airborne virus, she damaged her sinuses escaping island quarantine by walking several miles underwater in an airtight, anti-contamination suit.
- I Taste Delicious: Comrade Snarky, having actually fainted instead of dying, awakens unaware that her ass has been carved off and follows the delicious smell of cooked meat. She keeps eating until she notices the rose tattoo on her butt is on some crackling.
- From Bad to Worse: As you might predict, the story starts with 17 neurotic writers trapped in a building, and it slowly starts going downhill from there.
- Knife Nut: Chef Assassin
- Loads and Loads of Characters: The seventeen writers, Mr. Whittier, and Ms. Clark.
- Lonely Doll Girl: Cora Reynolds in "Exodus."
- Mad Artist: Everybody. Each one of the protagonistic individuals are haunted by their own past, as well as aspiring writers.
- Magical Native American: Missing Link.
- Manipulative Bastard: Mr. Whittier.
- Meaningful Rename: The first poem, "Guinea Pigs", discusses how they got their names: each of them was named after a sin or something that they did that got them in trouble. To quote the poem, "the opposite of superhero names".
- Mind Rape: Whatever the "Nightmare Box" does.
- No Party Like a Donner Party: As the workshop group begin to sabotage their facilities to make a more dramatic, bankable story (yes, really), they begin to suffer starvation. When it came to finding the Duke of Vandals dead and putrefying, Mrs. Clark told them not to eat the body. The group start to become more desperate, starting by eating Comrade Snarky's buttock when they mistake her for dead and end up killing her for real.
- Official Couple: Invoked. Saint Gut-Free and Mother Nature believe that a romantic couple will draw sympathy from audiences.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Everyone who isn't Mr. Whittier or Mrs. Clark.
- Some fractions of names are given in the stories, though. In some cases, we even get full names.
- Power Perversion Potential: Mother Nature's backstory involves her remeeting an old friend who...misuses her reflexology training to give foot massages with er...unusual effects. Mother Nature was pulled into the career until circumstances forced her to quit. This eventually culminates to the footjob she did for Saint Gut-Free at the end of the story.
- Pregnant Hostage: Ms. America, who learns shortly after the story's beginning that she's carrying her boyfriend's child.
- Rape as Drama: Invoked occasionally:
- Mr. Whittier: Actually thirteen years old and suffering from a type of progeria. He tricks wealthy volunteer housewives into having sex with him, only to blackmail them as they've unknowingly committed statutory rape.
- Comrade Snarky: She and her feminist group, believing the new, overly effeminate group member to be a MtF transgender, proceed to remove her clothes and sexually assault her to "check" if she's really a woman.
- Director Denial: Her story involves the wrong type of anatomically-accurate child dolls being ordered for the county CPR training facility, and several police officers using said dolls for extremely questionable sexual purposes. Taken further as the protagonist of the story sees the dolls as living things.
- Ripped from the Headlines: The boy and dog from "Hot Potting?" Sadly, They're real.
- At least part of "Guts" is true: Faulty pool drains can and have sucked out people's intestines. Former politician and current scumbag John Edwards made his name representing a five year old girl who suffered that fate.
- Actually, all three stories in "Guts" are true stories recounted to Chuck, the first two by friends, the third by a man he met at a Sexoholic's meeting when researching for Choke.
- Sacrificial Lamb: The characters choose Miss Sneezy on account of her Incurable Cough of Death. Lady Baglady actually ends up being this, and Miss Sneezy survives until the end of the story.
- Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere: The workshop is really a derelict building in the urban hinterland, sealed up and kept locked. For three months.
- Shotacon/Lolicon: If anatomically-correct dolls count. Also "old" Mr Whittier is actually a progeria-suffering thirteen-year-old who makes money by seducing wealthy women and then blackmailing them with the threat of turning them in for statutory rape.
- Slumming It: Lady Baglady, her late husband, and friends of theirs made a hobby of pretending to be street people for a change of pace from their ultra-luxurious "real lives". Then someone started killing off street people to eliminate potential witnesses to a bloody kidnapping...
- Small Name, Big Ego: In-universe, Chef Assassin. He doesn't like critics.
- Snark Ball: Comrade Snarky spends the entire bus ride to the theater riffing on everyone around her.
- Stepford Smiler: Miss America. She acts at all times like she is on camera.
- Straw Feminist: Comrade Snarky and her group. Granted, many of them have good reasons for being distrustful of men, but it really doesn't give them the excuse to rape a new member they suspect is transgender.
- Taking the Veil: Mother Nature tried to enter a nunnery in order to hide from the Russian mob.
- Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: According to the museum curator, the Nightmare Box contains the truth of reality, which drove three people into a state of near-madness.
- Unreliable Narrator: Possibly. There is the potential for tons of it. Keeping in mind that these people are writers, it's easy to start second guessing their stories. When the stories first acquire an air of Magical Realism and then become increasingly fantastic, it is left up to the audience to decide what to believe (if anything), and what to doubt (if anything).
- Especially considering that two of the stories are about biological mutations and psychic abilities.
- Unusual Euphemism: Saint Gut-Free referred to his attempts at underwater masturbation as "Pearl Diving".
- Specifically the act of collecting the little "pearls" of ejaculate from the pool.
- Younger Than They Look: Mr. Whittier is thirteen year-old suffering from progeria.
- Miss Sneezy is actually only twenty two, she just suffers from extreme sinus problems.