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“Invisible Monsters” by Chuck Palahniuk Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jun 10th, 2022


Charles Michael Palahniuk, also known as ‘Chuck’ Palahniuk, is an American Transgressional fiction novelist and freelance journalist of Ukrainian ancestry, born in Washington. Chuck Palahniuk is best known for his award-winning novel Fight Club which was later adapted into a film starring Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, directed by David Fincher. After the film’s huge success, the novel has become a target of criticism, mainly for its explicit depictions of violence. Since then, it has become a popular culture phenomenon.

Transgressional fiction

Transgressional fiction is a genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who use unusual and/or illicit ways to break free of those confines. Some critics have labeled Palahniuk as a ‘shock writer’ because of the abnormality of the situations he writes about. And his characters, instead of being criticized, are treated rather humorously. In Chuck Palahniuk’s third published novel, Invisible Monsters, the characters fit the bill perfectly. The protagonist is a once-upon-a-time fashion model whose face is disfigured due to the lack of a jaw that was shot away and stolen by birds. The other characters include a pre-operative transsexual with one bizarre life story; and parents who are obsessed about their son who was a homosexual and died of AIDS. All this added to a story filled with twists and turns builds up to Invisible Monsters.

The novel

In a way, Invisible Monster is a novel that questions a lot of things. The first noticeable thing would be the detail of thoughts of a person who is physically disfigured. Physically challenged people are looked upon as in need of help, or even pitied for. But, a person who is disfigured, without a jaw, in this case, is called a ‘monster’ and merely given no amount of attention or pity. They are, as the name suggests, invisible. Here, in the head of such a person, we discover her train of thoughts. The fact that she, who once was a fashion model, who got all the importance she could ask for by wearing a ‘cotton crepe sundress from Espre’, who could turn everyone’s head and make it look like she had just been awarded ‘some major distinguished award for a major lifetime achievement’, is reduced to a monster.

People will still look at her, but only if she is not covering up her ‘half-face in a veil. They will look at her only to be amazed at the fact that she has half a face with her tongue is dangling out. Whatever she says sounds like mumbling more than anything else. Not a word she speaks can be understood. It is not a surprise that such a person is confined by the norms and expectations of society and looks for a way to break free. The very fact that she can no longer turn heads by wearing a ‘cotton crepe sundress’ is real enough for her to look elsewhere for acceptance. All she wanted was for somebody to ask her what had happened to her face, but no one seemed to care enough. She befriends a transsexual who, after looking at her face, asks her,” Did you let an elephant sit on your face or what?”

The parents of the protagonist

The representation of parents in this novel is what might attract a teenager. The parents of the protagonist are shown to be irritating, unbelievable, and downright nerve-racking to be tolerated; annoying, in the layman’s words. The fact that they had disowned their son because he was a homosexual comes back to them after they learn of his death from AIDS, which, in turn, leads to their obsession with supporting people who are homosexuals. The mere way they talk is unnerving. Though unbelievable, it should be noted that it is a very realistic approach. It may be that their regret for sending away their son and his death has resulted in such an effect on them that all they can think of, now that he is no more, is him. It may be that they are trying to compensate for their actions by being supportive of all those who are like their son and are not openly accepted in society. This shows us reality. Although shown in a very extreme way, it is very relevant in present-day society. Be it American, as it is in this case, or anywhere else for that matter.

Invisible Monsters puts forward numerous theories with which critics could have a field day. The first, and most noticeable, would be how human beings are compared to consumer products from the very first chapter of the novel. The protagonist says:

‘Shotgunning anybody in this room would be the moral equivalent of killing a car, a vacuum cleaner, a Barbie doll. Erasing a computer disk. Burning a book. Probably that goes for killing anyone in the world. We’re all such products.’

The book speaks of how man is like God. Like we, sitting in our living rooms, watching television, can switch channels whenever we want to in case whatever is running does not catch our interest, God too can switch channels if we are unable to catch his interest. Life is one big television for God. He surfs channels to see how interesting the lives of his creations can be. If it’s not interesting enough, we’ll probably be terminated. Hence, the protagonist says:

‘All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never be boring.”

The Rhea sisters

The presence of the characters of the Rhea sisters is almost like the Three witches from Macbeth. For it is for them that a person goes into doing something, that, under normal circumstances, would probably not have done. The confession of the fact that they were indeed not so comes much later in the story. But it a point the characters of these three sisters are witch-like, as were the Weird Sisters in Macbeth. And echoing Macbeth’s words of ‘We’d jump the life to come, the transsexual says,’ You have to jump into disaster with both feet.

These theories would, undeniably, interest the followers of popular art and culture. Nature, in which the thoughts of the protagonist are expressed, like a model doing a photoshoot, with each emotion and/or feeling is the essence of a photograph, is quite bizarre. In the heat of the moment, of how she feels, she describes the way a photographer would ask her to make expressions during her photoshoots. Quote:

‘Him yelling. Give me lust, baby.


Give me malice.


Give me detached existential ennui.


Give me rampant intellectualism as a coping mechanism.


Chuck Palahniuk’s kind of writing

This kind of writing itself has hugely influenced popular culture. The band Panic at a Disco has written a song based entirely on Invisible Monsters. It is called Time to Dance, and it takes a lot of lines from the book, especially those with references to the aforementioned technique of displaying emotions. The indie rock band Motion City Soundtrack has a song called Invisible Monsters which is loosely based on the novel. Comic artist Kissgz, also known as Gabor, has adapted Invisible Monsters into a graphic novel of his own.

With Fight Club, Palahniuk’s first novel, published in 1996 and adapted to the big screen in 1999, he was brought into full view of critics around the world. With his label as a ‘shock writer’, it is evident that he means to surprise the readers with what he writes. His form of literature is directed at the masses. And therefore, it is, what a critic would term, popular culture. However, novels question the readers with their wit and sarcasm, about things that are prevalent in present-day society. Just like Fight Club questioned consumerism and the state of masculinity in American culture, Invisible Monsters does with the way homosexuality and physically disfigured individuals are looked upon. And it also furthers the consumerist aspect of criticism with its ‘all humans are products’ theory.

The movie rights to Invisible Monsters has been sold as far back as 2004. Since its release in 1999, this novel, like all other Chuck Palahniuk novels, has been criticized immensely. And no doubt making a feature-length film adapted from the novel will do exactly what Fight Club did. It already is popular art. Once a film is made, it will be termed pop culture in its entirety.



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Quotes from Invisible Monsters e-book:

  • Quotes in 3rd paragraph – page 19, line 4.
  • Page 19, line 12
  • Page 32, line 24
  • Quote in 5th paragraph – page 2, line 8
  • Quote in 8th paragraph – page 3, line 6
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