Reviews by title
Reviews by author
Onyx reviews: Tell All by Chuck Palahniuk
There are a few interesting, promising ideas lurking within the sparse pages of Tell
All by Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club. First, there is
the saga of Hazie Coogan, who has spent her entire life in the shadow of silver
screen star Katherine Kenton, doing menial tasks for decades in support of
another woman's career. Hazie is too homely and untalented to make it in the
movie business, so she latches onto Katherine at an early age. The oft-married Katherine
Coogan's entire life. Her work in progress. Destined to be her masterpiece.
promising and intriguing is the appearance on the scene of Webster Carlton
Westward III, a fortune seeker who insinuates himself into Katherine's life. Hazie
finds a manuscript among his belongings, a tell-all exposé of their
tawdry affair that would be a guaranteed bestseller after Katherine dies. The book,
titled Love Slave, is already complete, including a final chapter that details
exactly how she will die. Each time Coogan and Katherine foil one of these schemes,
a new final chapter replaces the old one, with Katherine dying
in different, spectacular and improbable ways in each draft, always after she
achieves the pinnacle of sexual satisfaction with Webster.
Finally, the scenes of Hazie etching Katherine's age spots and wrinkles into
a mirror with Katherine's diamond ring bring to mind The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Unfortunately, these promising ideas are buried among gimmicks that
might generously be called "experimental" but could more accurately be
described as self indulgent. The brief book, a mere 180 small pages, is
presented as a quasi-screenplay, broken into Acts and Scenes. Each one
begins with a mis-en-scène, with elaborate stage and camera directions.
"The scene begins with a tight shot of..." begins one chapter. Another
starts, "In the establishing shot..."
Worse, Palahniuk tries also to emulate a tattletale tabloid. Every person's
name (virtually every proper noun, in fact, including trade names) is bolded.
The pages are littered with bold text, something Palahniuk himself describes as
a "Tourette's syndrome of brand names." Occasionally these references
are inexplicably prefaced by a triplet of animal sounds. ("Tweet, quack,
growl...Veuve Clicquot.) Famous (and quasi-famous) names from the Golden Age of movie making
are depicted in roles they never played. Katherine herself seems to have played
every major female part ever created. It's a dog's lunch of name dropping and if
it's meant to lampoon something, it misses the mark. Lillian Hellman is one of
his prime targets, for reasons that are never made clear.
Pahalniuk adopts a jaunty tone, interjecting quips and puns that he
puts into the mouths of other (usually famous) people. Some of them are witty (ex-husbands are
called "was-bands"), but he goes overboard, and the cleverness soon
wears thin. So, too, does Katherine's habit of uttering foreign phrases and
immediately mis-translating them. ("Voilà!" she says.
"That's Italian for prego.") The repeated, campy enactments of the
schemes found in Love Slave quickly lose their charm, too.
Unexpectedly, the lengths Katherine takes to avoid the schemes so elaborately
plotted out in Love Slave have a positive influence on her. She loses
weight, and gives up cigarettes and booze. The color comes back into her cheeks.
Dorian Gray, indeed. The book has a nice—though perhaps predictable—twist,
but the admirable parts of the book are overwhelmed by the misguided experiment.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent
2007-2010. All rights reserved