Reading: Celebrating Palahniuk


By Samantha Spoto

Chuck Palahniuk. Photo courtesy of Terry Robinson.

Best-selling author Chuck Palahniuk stood tall behind a podium on stage at the Symphony Space in New York City last Wednesday. An intact pineapple and a vase filled with flowers sat on the floor beside him.

Hosted by Time Out New York’s Matthew Love, the event featured readings of Palahniuk’s poignant tales from his first short story collection, Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread. Available to the public on May 26, the collection features writings that span several years of the author’s career. Most notably, a story titled “Expedition” centers on Palahniuk’s infamous character Tyler Durden in a pre-Fight Club era.

To preface the readings, Palahniuk introduced each of the four stories–two of his own and two by authors who influenced his writing process. Performers then took to the stage to recite the works.

First, actress Sarah Steele stepped to a microphone to narrate “The Loser,” a story by Palahniuk, written specifically for his reading tour. He described the story as one that features a character spinning into insanity, and his brief summary proved increasingly accurate as an animated Steele read the comedic piece about a college student competing on an episode of The Price is Right. It is a story that, underneath the humor, comments on consumer culture, materialism, and the trivialness of possessions.

The reading of “The Loser” was followed by Mark Richard’s story “Strays.” Performed by actor Alex Hurt, the audience was taken to the gothic American South, where one abusive family is living in chaos. “Strays” is a remarkable tale of young brothers who are unable to affect the unfortunate world around them. The story is tragic, like much of Palahniuk’s writing, so it seems obvious why he takes liking to Richard’s work.

NYC’s Symphony Space. Photo coutesy of Eden, Janine and Jim.

After a brief intermission, in which audience members lined up for signed copies of Palahniuk’s latest collection, actress Becky Ann Baker, well known for her roles in the television series Girls and Freaks and Geeks, read “Through the Safety Net” by Charles Baxter.

Lastly, to close the night, actor Sam Underwood performed “Zombie,” a surreal and pseudo-dystopian story by Palahniuk. In this piece, students willingly perform lobotomies on themselves with emergency defibrillators. Despite the disarray, the plot ultimately comments on the good will of humanity and reassures readers they are not alone in their struggles.

As for the pineapple and the vase filled with flowers, Palahniuk didn’t explain why they were on stage. He only said he wanted to keep the scene a mystery–something he has mastered in his writing.