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Book Review: Invisible Monsters

by 2 March 14, 2013

invisible monsters I assume that at some point in the past most of you luvvies were self-conscious, inwardly angry adolescent women; therefore, I assume most of you have encountered the storybook depravity of author Chuck Palahniuk. If nothing else, you’ll remember his novel-turned-cult-classic film, Fight Club. (I am also assuming that you’ve all had some boyfriend who was briefly convinced that he *was* Tyler Durden. Just me?) In all of Palahniuk’s works, though, readers can recognize the author’s exploitation of consumerist America and the dangerous boredom of what we call now, with very little irony, “first world problems.” Enter the nameless heroine of Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters: a former model who has recently had her jaw blown off with a shotgun. Now hideous, mute, and “mutilated,” the young woman must become accustomed to no longer being a focal point; she loses her modeling job, her boyfriend, and her ego in one powerful blast. Her savior appears in the form of an awe-inspiring transgendered woman, the queen supreme Brandy Alexander, who has her own doctrine concerning beauty, femininity, and destiny. Hilarity ensues. The complexity of Invisible Monsters doesn’t end within the pages, however. I found my reaction to re-reading this novel very complicated indeed. See, when I first encountered Brandy Alexander and the disfigured former-model—at maybe twenty years old—I found their story disturbing. Its themes of superficiality and vanity were like threats to my young body and my tight pores. In my naïve, college-girl brain, there was nothing more frightening than being horribly disfigured and completely displaced. Cut to me at twenty-eight years old, reading Invisible Monsters for the second time: I found it downright riotous. The obscene images of rouged cheeks and painkillers were, suddenly, brilliant macabre comedy. Theatre of the grotesque. The repeated motif of self-sabotage for the sake of control is far more obvious to the late-twenties Me, and crushingly more relevant. Revisiting a novel is an interesting experiment in the life of a literature luvvy. You (as reader) are dynamic, ever-evolving and changing and growing; the book, of course, remains the same, which allows you to reflect through relativity: what was once so profound now pales against the shifting priorities of your maturing mind. In the case of Invisible Monsters, that comparative experiment didn’t at all test the book’s ability to hold up over time, but rather mine. It’s the sort of novel that hangs around in your brain for a few days, with the narrator’s voice (though perhaps embarrassing to admit) now providing the internal play-by-play of your every moment. It may not be Palahniuk’s most highly-regarded novel, but it does most readily address the issues of power, vanity, and pressure that are literally driving women to madness today. Flash goes the camera.