Chuck Palahniuk's "Not Forever, But For Now": It's Both
Before you read Not Forever, But For Now, know that you’re doing it wrong.
Because for years now, so many readers have read Palahniuk’s books all wrong.
Let me explain:
Chuck Palahniuk has said, more than once, that he takes a certain pleasure in being wrong.
At a party, he’ll talk about how Sylvia Plath wrote The Bell Curve.
Now, Chuck is well aware that Sylvia Plath wrote The Bell Jar, but saying it wrong is a little troll, a little fun. And it’s a little something else.
Because when someone gets to correct him, they feel good about themselves. They carry that good feeling with them.
Chuck Palahniuk doesn't mind being wrong to make someone else feel good.
There’s another version of this, another Palahniuk technique, this one in writing: You write a character who is wrong. Dreadfully, utterly wrong.
Palahniuk will cite Scarlett from Gone With The Wind to make this point. Scarlett, in the movie’s opening, says, “Fiddle-dee-dee! War, war, war; this war talk's spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream. Besides... there isn't going to be any war.”
In case you’re not a history buff, Gone With The Wind takes place, as the first line of Wikipedia’s plot summary puts it, “on the eve of the American Civil War.”
There is absolutely going to be a war, and it’s a doozy.
Palahniuk’s idea here is that the reader/viewer knows more than Scarlett, knows that she’s mistaken in a horrible way, to a horrible degree. And because we know what’s coming, we're a little superior. And we feel a little bad for her.
And because we know what she doesn't, we have to carry her pain until it's time to hand it off to her.
Chuck Palahniuk’s biggest trick is that his books will always make the readers feel something, whether it's the feeling from outside the book, a feeling of being smart, or a feeling from inside the book, a feeling the reader carries for the characters.
And sometimes, at Palahniuk's best, the reader gets both.
Not Forever, But For Now, is a "both" kind of book.
Readers will feel smart because the reader always knows something the characters don’t: The reader always knows they’re holding a Chuck Palahniuk book.
The reader knows there’s more than they’re seeing right off. The reader knows that Palahniuk isn’t wasting their time with a book where everything is exactly as it seems.
And yet the characters never, ever know they’re in a Palahniuk novel.
Readers will also carry feelings from this book. Sometimes uncomfortable feelings, feelings that you don't want to hold onto any longer than you have to. But you can do it. It's worth it.
When I say you might be about to read Not Forever, But For Now wrong, I’m speaking to you if you haven't enjoyed Chuck’s books in the past.
If you haven’t enjoyed them as feelings-type experiences, read Not Forever, But For Now as a puzzle. Try and guess Chuck's next move. Pick up the clues. And remember, nothing is arbitrary in his books. Nothing is an accident.
If you haven’t enjoyed Chuck's books as puzzles, let go. Let go of your need to predict, to figure out what’s going on, to prove to yourself how smart you are. Drop the clues and the hints and just carry the feelings.
Because this one really is both. And if you switch your focus, go from puzzling to feelings, the puzzle will get a chance to sneak up on you. If you're a feelings person, give this one a shot as a puzzle, and the feelings will still shine through.
If you pay attention to the part you usually ignore, you'll have a great time.
There is one thing I hope Chuck is legitimately wrong about, though. It’s what he announced in his newsletter:
This is likely the last tour with big off-site events. If you’re coming to one you’ll see the end of a wonderful experiment. I’d no idea the tickets would cost so much, and I can’t condone anyone paying upwards of $50 for a $25 book. Even if you catch a kangaroo and get nailed with a bag of candy.
Is Chuck Palahniuk playing Scarlett, saying there isn’t going to be any book tour renaissance? Or is he 100% correct?
It could go either way.
But if I were you, and if I lived somewhere a big event was happening, I wouldn’t take the chance.
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