Chuck Palahniuk can do things that elude us lesser writers. There is a quality to his writing that is prima facie absurd. It shouldn’t work. Kurt Vonnegut was the same way. It is absurd to think you can end multiple paragraphs and sections with the refrain “So it goes.” But Vonnegut does it, and it works. If anyone else tries the same thing (or at least a similar convention), the work falls apart. They read like a poor copy of Kurt Vonnegut.
Regarding Palahniuk, who else could offer up the refrain, “I am Jack’s Raging Bile Duct” without sounding like a boob? That struck me as I was reading Lullaby the other day (and yes, I know that previous quote is from Fight Club). He has that same Vonnegut-like quality – he does things on the printed page that should not work. And I know. I’ve written lots of things that haven’t worked. And I’ve read a few short stories from the bizarro genre, which has tried to associate itself with Palahniuk, but (to me, at least) most of the “bizarro” stories come across as self-indulgent, with a Mad Libs approach to the profane. In contrast, Palahniuk’s work is complete, organic, where lesser writers sound trite and derivative.
And speaking of derivative, Lullaby has that same theme of “deadly art” that I was using in Martin Garvin, except he has a killer poem (or culling song) and mine was a movie. Damn you, Noosphere! Not that I ever thought that plot point was original.
Monty Python has a classic skit with “the deadliest joke in the world,” which the allies used as a weapon of mass destruction (and that was the motivation for the government agents in Martin Garvin Part 2).
Lovecraft imagined a world of ancient tomes where reading the words of certain ancient texts would drive one mad.
Del Close and John Ostrander told the story of a root that gives the ultimate high before killing you, in the unfortunately named “Foo Goo,” from the comic-book anthology series Wasteland #1. (How’s that for an obscure reference?)
The Ring had a killer videotape. In keeping with the limitations of that analog world, one has to wait a few days after watching the videotape to meet one’s demise.
Original ideas are hard to come by, so says Ecclesiastes. I don’t think that should be a deterrant to creating. But still, I also noticed some similarities between Palahniuk’s character Oyster (in Lullaby) and a character in one of my short stories. No wonder that damn story keeps getting rejected…