Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Release Date: September 1999
“Invisible Monsters” was the fifth book I read in a set of recommended books based on its similarity to an author I already liked. In this case, the author I enjoy is Bret Easton Ellis, and for the first time I’d also read some of the recommended author’s previous work. Chuck Palahniuk is the writer of such works as “Fight Club” (which I haven’t read, but everybody my age has seen the movie), and the infamous short story “Guts” about the graphic consequences of creative masturbation gone awry. (Seriously, very graphic consequences; when I read “Guts” it was on the recommendation of a friend who told me “this is the grossest story ever written” and the fact that years later I remember the short story pretty vividly means I’m not likely to dispute that claim.)
“Invisible Monsters” is a book I really need to spoil to explain why it didn’t work for me, so read at your own peril if you have interest in trying this book out. The first chapter begins with three female characters in a burning house, one having shot another with the third a witness to the event. The rest of the book is a series of flashbacks, alternating between events happening to her family when she was in high, events that happened immediately after her mouth was shot off of her face (unrelated, chronologically at least to the shooting in chapter one), and events leading up to the shooting more fully explained at the end of the book. There are not a lot of characters in this book, **spoilers ramping up here** with the main group consisting of the narrator (a former model whose face has been shot off), Brandy (a woman the narrator meets at the hospital who is also recovering from plastic surgery), Manus (the narrator’s ex- boyfriend who is a former vice police officer who specializes in propositioning men), Evey (the narrator’s roommate who is also a model) and Shane (the narrator’s brother, who disappeared shortly after an exploding can of hair spray burned his face and he caught gonorrhea). Of that group, there are more secrets and past connections to each other than you will find on any soap opera or telenovela.
I mentioned that this book was recommended to me because I enjoy Bret Easton Ellis’s writing. I can see where somebody would read “American Psycho” and think this book (which was published eight years later) is a similar read. In particular, both books feature unreliable narrators (though this book’s is deliberately lying, whereas Patrick Bateman is incapable of realizing the truth from fantasy) and the idea that characters are unrecognizable to each other. In “American Psycho,” all the people dress alike and get their hair and tans done at the same places, so other characters can’t tell one apart from another. **OK, really spoiling the book here** Here, the narrator is disfigured to the point where she is unaware if her own brother recognizes who she is, and her brother is likewise unrecognizable to her following a near complete gender reassignment program. “American Psycho” also features highly sexualized violence and fetishism in some of its scenes involving torture and dismemberment, while “Invisible Monsters” doubles down on the Cronenbergian body horror with possible incest and deliberate involuntary hormonal cocktails. Both Patrick Bateman and the narrator of “Invisible Monsters” often speak in a detached voice about the horror they are experiencing or inflicting, with zero regrets or shits given about the aftermaths of the character’s actions.
Despite all the similarities however, I loved “American Psycho” as a book (and as a movie) and I’m lukewarm at best on “Invisible Monsters.” I think the main areas this book comes up short in comparison (and as a stand alone novel) are that the structure of the book is written to maximize shocks in plot twists, and the narrator is a less interesting and relatable character than the (possibly) mass murdering Patrick Bateman. **SPOILER, LITERALLY EVERY PLOT TWIST IN THE BOOK** Over the course of the last hundred pages, the narrator finds out that Brandy is her long lost brother Shane, that Manus and Evey were sleeping together, that Manus also had sex with Shane when he was underage, that Evey is also a former man who transitioned into a woman and became a successful model, and (we find out) that the narrator has been lying the whole time and she shot her own mouth off to get away “cold turkey” from being beautiful. As a reader, I think the revelation that Brandy and Shane were the same person worked (although I never believed Shane wouldn’t recognize the narrator) and every other twist after that felt like author manipulation and was either unbelievable or added nothing to a compelling narrative.
Throughout the entire novel, the narrator provided probably two scenes where we got an idea of who she was and what her motivations were: the scene where she tosses a post card with her thoughts off the Space Needle, and her gift to Shane at the end of the book. Everything else was either “tskgn sakln ahslk!” jokes about how she couldn’t talk, or contempt for every character she met. Contrasted with Patrick Bateman, whose need to “fit in,” despite his contempt for every other male that he comes across, all while ranking his favorite Genesis and Whitney Houston albums made for a really interesting character to spend 300 pages with. Not everybody who reads this book will also have read “American Psycho,” but standing on its own or as a direct comparison to that novel, “Invisible Monsters” falters as a book overly reliant on shock value and unrealistic plot twists.