Chuck Palahniuk is the transgressive author of Fight Club. Transgressive fiction looks to take an unique voice to the sort of story others might not consider safe to write about.
Dennis Widmyer and Richard Thomas collected a host of stories written in Palahniuk’s style by students of the burnt tongue disciple. Together with Chuck they then picked the very best for this collection of short stories.
So what is the “burnt tongue” style? The book defines it as; “a way of saying something, but saying it wrong, twisting it to slow down the reader. Forcing the reader to read close, maybe read twice, not just skim along a surface of abstract images, short-cut adverbs, and clichés.”
I didn’t find myself needing to re-read parts of Burnt Tongues. I think that would have been annoying. I did find myself reading close. I did find myself with my brain engaged, whether I liked it or not, as I read through the short stories. We kick off with a suicide attempt and soon find ourselves wondering whether another narrator is right in the head or not.
Other interesting stories include the like of “Mating Calls”, “Mind and Soldier, “A Vodka kind of Girl”, “Survived” and “Zombie Whorehouse”. There wasn’t a weak story in the collection. There were just stories that were closer to my usual reads.
It may be the case that I’m not smart enough to really understand what’s so clever about the “burnt tongue” style or transgressive fiction. Sure, many of these stories dealt with uncomfortable subjects – death, insanity and spooky coincidences – but is that special? Could it just be that the X-Factor or Strictly Come Dancing mainstream audience tend to read books (do they read?) that stay the hell away from anything not wrapped in cotton candy?
The good news is that whether transgressive fiction stands out as unusual in any way to the reading geek doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to Burnt Tongues. The short of the issue is that this anthology is a collection of good short stories. A collection of stories that engage the brain is worth having.
Overall? Recommended. Perhaps not a book to give your mum but a book to read on holiday and help you keep it real.
My copy of Burnt Tongues: An Anthology of Transgressive Short Stories was provided for review. Titan Books, 320pp, Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Thomas and Dennis Widmyer.