The Zen of the Choke

Turns out the author of Fight Club, Snuff and Choke is a pretty laid back dude.

By G.W. Miller III
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 1, 2008

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Q and play: Palahniuk goes along with interviews but would prefer to be the one asking the questions.

"So what do you teach?" Chuck Palahniuk asks in a voice calm and soothing, like a psychiatrist speaking to a patient.

I fumble an awkward response, mention my magazine writing class at Temple and basic journalism course with nearly 300 students.

"That's a really large class," Palahniuk acknowledges flatly, without judgment or surprise.

Dressed in a crisp blue Oxford shirt and pressed olive-colored slacks, Palahniuk looks like a professor. He carries a herringbone sportscoat folded over his right arm and a soft red and black briefcase in his left hand. His hair is freshly trimmed and short in the back, giving his square-jawed face a boyish look.

Palahniuk, 46, is in Philly for just 24 hours, promoting Choke, the new movie about a sex-addicted con man based on his novel of the same name.

He strides through the lobby of Channel 3 with excellent posture and a hint of a smile. For a guy with a bubbling over commercial career, he seems at peace, absorbing every little thing he sees and hears.

Serenity isn't what I expected from a man who's penned tales about a porn star, a death cult survivor, a disfigured model, a disemboweled masturbator, serial killers, an anti-consumerist schizophrenic and sex addicts.

"What kind of magazine writing do you teach?" he asks.

Educated in college as a journalist, Palahniuk earned $5 an hour at a community newspaper before taking a job servicing diesel truck engines. He wrote fiction in his spare time.

He reached an epiphany when he was 31, he tells me as we sit together in the green room at the television station.

"Oh my God. I may die like everyone else," he recalls thinking. "I'm not going to be able to do everything I wanted to do. By trying to do everything, I've got nothing done."

It's the same place many of his characters get to when they realize they've lived lives prescribed for them rather than acting on their own will.

"Everybody, very early in life, discovers a way of being that endears them to other people," he says, displaying his home state of Washington accent. "People like me because of blank. I can win if I'm really, really smart. People will like me if I work really, really hard, or if I'm really, really pretty, or if I'm really, really funny."

Recognizing you're going to have to play that role for the rest of your life can be crushing, Palahniuk says.

He slides out of his brown leather tassel loafers and folds his legs under himself in the chair.

"You start to break down. It's at that point that your life kind of falls to pieces and you either destroy yourself or you continue to be this pretty angry person who resents that you're trapped."

Which explains Fight Club psychopath Tyler Durden and Choke protagonist Victor Mancini, a former med school student who picks up women at sexual addiction support groups.

When Palahniuk hit that stage, he challenged himself: "How about I spend the rest of my life trying to write one really great sentence."

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