Monday, May 24, 2010

Tell-All: I plan to!

by Chuck Palahniuk

Let me cut to the chase... I hated this novel. I've read Palahniuk before, and I've neither loved nor hated his work. He's got a perverse aesthetic, but the guy can write. That's what got him the two stars. But this was the longest 200 pages I've ever had to read. Slim as this volume is, getting through it was torture.

Tell-All is the story of fading Hollywood star, Katherine Kenton, and it's told from the POV of her... Assistant? Confidant? Maid? Consigliere? Anyway, the singularly unpleasant and deeply possessive first-person narrator is Hazie Coogan. Let me tell you, if I never read the phrase "my Miss Kathie" again, it will be too soon.

It's hard to summarize the plot of this novel because ultimately there's so little substance to it. Set in the golden age of Hollywood, the narrative is highly stylized. First, there are no chapters, just "Acts" and "Scenes." Cinematic, rather than literary, vernacular is used to set these scenes, such as Act I, Scene Eight: "We open with a panning shot of Miss Kathie's boudoir mantel, the lineup of wedding photos and awards. Next we dissolve to a similar panning shot, moving across the surface of a console table in her drawing room, crowded with more trophies. Then, we dissolve to yet another similar shot..."

All proper names are in bold-face, with those names dropped by the dozens in the style of old-time gossip sheets. Just paragraph after paragraph of filler. And if that's not enough, Palahniuk regales us with dozens of "witticisms" attributed to famed gossip columnists. For instance, "This prattle, further example of what WALTER WINCHELL means by the term 'toast-masturbating.' Or 'laud mouthing,' according to HEDDA HOPPER. According to LOUELLA PARSONS, 'implying gilt.'" Over and over and over.

Then there were the lengthy passages along the lines of, "This woman is POCAHONTAS. She is ATHENA and HERA. Lying in this messy, unmade bed, eyes closed, this is JULIET CAPULET. BLANCHE DUBOIS. SCARLET O'HARA. With ministrations of lipstick and eyeliner I give birth to OPHELIA. To MARIE ANTOINETTE. Over the next trip of the larger hand around the face of the bedside clock, I give form to LUCREZIA BORGIA..." I'll spare you further, but trust me, it goes on for some time. Why say something once when you can say it sixteen times?

And aside from the redundant, redundant, redundant text, even the plot eventually repeats and repeats six or seven or eight times (I lost count) with identically-staged murder attempts. By the time I reached "the surprise ending" as Hazie calls it, I was just so very glad my ordeal was over.
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