INTRODUCTION Chuck Palahniuk is best known for the satirical and controversial subject matter of his novels and for his exploration of such themes as alienation, consumerism, masculinity, and existentialism. Palahniuk's reputation as a "transgressive" author stems largely from his first novel, Fight Club (1996), a meditation on the modern state of masculinity. Fight Club was well received at the time of its publication, but it was ultimately the 1999 film adaptation of the same name-and its cultlike following-that sparked a broader interest in Palahniuk's work. His novels feature dark subject matter, intricate plots, socially marginalized characters, nonlinear narrative structures, idiosyncratic historical research, and a minimalist prose style that has been compared to that of other contemporary American writers such as Gordon Lish, Amy Hempel, and Denis Johnson, as well as to the satirical fiction of Bret Easton Ellis. In a 2002 interview with Adam Dunn, Palahniuk stated that his fiction is ultimately concerned with the efforts of alienated individuals to find meaning by engaging with a community, even if that community has misguided or dangerous goals. His work has been both praised and criticized for championing culturally marginalized behavior. While some critics have dismissed his novels and short stories as puerile and nihilistic, others have found a romantic sentiment in Palahniuk's commitment to writing about society's outcasts. Palahniuk stands out among contemporary American writers for the extent to which his personal life and public persona have influenced the reception of his work. He is known for holding dramatic public readings, at which his readers occasionally act out scenes from his work. Palahniuk's personal biography, which includes a tragic family history and a high-profile coming-out as a homosexual, has also inspired readers to make connections between his life and his work. Palahniuk has alternately courted and resisted this association in his public statements and nonfiction writing. He is perhaps best characterized as a nonconformist writer who specializes in depicting the dramas of alternative cultures to mainstream American consciousness. BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION Palahniuk was born on 21 February 1962 in Pasco, Washington, to Fred and Carol Palahniuk. When Fred was a child, his father (Chuck's paternal grandfather) murdered Fred's mother before turning the gun on himself, events the author later cited as formative in the development of his view of the dark possibilities of human nature. Palahniuk was raised in Burbank, Washington, until the age of fourteen, at which point his parents separated. He then went to live with his maternal grandparents on their cattle ranch in eastern Washington. Palahniuk graduated from high school in 1980 and attended the University of Oregon, where he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1986. After a brief period spent working for local papers in Portland, Oregon, he took a variety of odd jobs, including stints as a diesel-truck mechanic, technicalmanual writer, and volunteer at a hospice. Around this time, Palahniuk joined the Cacophony Society, a loosely organized group dedicated to the pursuit of unusual life experiences, including the execution of public pranks, some of which are echoed in scenes from Fight Club. When he was thirty-three years old, Palahniuk joined a Portland-based writing group that practiced a technique called "dangerous writing." Developed by contemporary American author Tom Spanbauer, dangerous writing emphasizes minimalist prose and the use of personal, often painful experiences as inspiration. Under Spanbauer's influence, Palahniuk published his first works, the short stories "Negative Reinforcement" and "The Love Theme of Sybil and William," in 1990 in the now-defunct literary journal Modern Short Stories. He also produced an early draft of the novel Invisible Monsters (1999), which publishers considered too dark for publication. Undeterred, Palahniuk set out to write an even darker novel, expanding his short story "Fight Club"-published in the 1995 anthology Pursuit of Happiness-into a full-length novel. Palahniuk's two subsequent novels, Invisible Monsters and Survivor (1999), explored similarly transgressive themes. The author's growing professional success was marred by personal tragedy, however, when his father was shot and killed by a girlfriend's former partner in 1999. In a 2002 interview with John Glassie (see Further Reading), Palahniuk claimed that writing the novel Lullaby (2002) helped him cope with the events surrounding his father's death. Although many of his fans had long assumed he had a wife, Palahniuk announced on his Web site in 2003 that he is homosexual. MAJOR WORKS Palahniuk's literary reputation rests largely on his earlier novels, most notably Fight Club. Following the release of its film adaptation, the work became popular among young, male American readers outside the academic sphere. Critics have attributed the novel's popularity with this audience to its critique of an emasculating consumerist culture and to its implied message that modem men need to rediscover their primal, aggressive nature. Fight Club features a young, nameless male narrator who makes the acquaintance of a mysterious, charismatic man named Tyler Durden. After realizing they both enjoy fistfights, Tyler and the narrator establish an underground organization called Fight Club, in which young men conduct organized fights with one another. As the club grows in popularity, Tyler begins to employ its most dedicated members to spread his extreme anticonsumerist beliefs. This leads to Tyler's establishment of Project Mayhem, a domestic terrorist group that sabotages the operations of American corporations. As the narrator grows increasingly uncomfortable with the terrorist activities of Project Mayhem, the plot takes a dramatic turn, revealing that the narrator and Tyler are in fact the same person, two halves of a split personality. Once the narrator realizes that his death is the only way to get rid of Tyler's destructive influence, he shoots himself. He eventually wakes up in a mental institution, where staff members reveal themselves to be Project Mayhem members who are eagerly awaiting Tyler's return. Palahniuk followed Fight Club with four novels-Survivor, Invisible Monsters, Choke (2001), and Lullaby-that feature similar themes of cultural alienation and existential realization. In Survivor, protagonist Tender Branson, the lone surviving member of a notorious American suicide cult, is transformed by a corrupt advertising culture into a religious celebrity. An overt satire on modern religiosity and mass media, Survivor features various transgressive symbolic elements, such as Branson's cult compound being replaced by a repository for outdated pornography. Invisible Monsters explores the commoditization of beauty, gender identity, and repressed trauma as its female protagonist struggles to understand her self-inflicted disfigurement and the transsexual experience of her lost brother. Palahniuk's fourth novel, Choke, became his first New York Times best seller. The novel's protagonist, ostensibly a biological child of Christ, is a sex addict who makes a living by pretending to choke in restaurants and then sending the "Good Samaritans" who "save" him his counterfeit medical bills. Following Choke, Palahniuk began to explore the horror genre as a means of critiquing modern culture. Lullaby follows a reporter's attempts to discover the origins of a lethal "culling song" that causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, while Diary (2003) examines the dark side of creativity and introduces elements of class tension into Palahniuk's work. Haunted (2005), his first published collection of short fiction, contains what is perhaps his most notorious short story, "Guts," a tale of gruesome accidents involving masturbation. The author has stated that his public readings of the story have caused more than sixty people to faint. The novel Rant (2007), like Choke, features a countercultural, Christlike protagonist, while Snuff (2008) satirizes the pornography industry. The novels Damned (2011) and Doomed (2013) are the first two installments of a planned trilogy about a thirteen-year-old girl who dies and goes to hell, much to her confusion. In addition to his novels, Palahniuk has published two works of nonfiction, Fugitives and Refugees (2003), a collection of essays about his adopted home city of Portland, and Stranger than Fiction (2004), a series of essays about bizarre reallife events and interviews with notable individuals. CRITICAL RECEPTION While nearly all of Palahniuk's novels have received significant attention, many critics have focused on Fight Club as an embodiment of his writing style and thematic concerns. Lars Bemaerts (2009) examined Palahniuk's use of a "narrative delirium" structure in Fight Club as a means of immersing readers into the narrator's delusional world. Peter Mathews (2005) argued that literary critics who condemn Fight Club for its violent, heteronormative themes and cult philosophy often overlook the novel's ironic critique of the violent worldview espoused by its characters. Ruth Quiney (2007) considered the political implications of Fight Club, suggesting that the work's depiction of disaffected Western men engaging in homegrown terrorist activities anticipates certain elements of the "War on Terror" initiated after the attacks of 11 September 2001. Other scholars have emphasized Palahniuk's personal views and their relation to his work, as well as the influence of his personal life on the reception of his writing. Austin Bunn (2008; see Further Reading) surveyed Palahniuk's family background, dark sense of humor, and experience as an openly gay literary celebrity, suggesting that the author has become adept at both revealing and guarding the details of his personal life. Monica Drake (1999), a member of the Portland writing group that Palahniuk joined in the mid-1990s, commented on her firsthand experiences reading drafts of the author's work in a broader examination of the existential, violent, and satirical themes in Fight Club and Survivor. Another significant critical focus has been Palahniuk's treatment of modem masculinity, specifically his concern with what it means to be a man at a time when certain traditional measures of masculinity are no longer universally esteemed. In his discussion of Fight Club, Kevin Alexander Boon (2003; see Further Reading) analyzed the contradictory cultural messages conveyed to heterosexual American males, many of whom have been taught to suppress certain types of behavior, such as aggression, while being simultaneously encouraged to exhibit such traditionally masculine virtues as bravery. Raymond Malewitz (2012) proposed that the male characters of Fight Club deliberately modify consumer goods into weapons as a way of developing a hypermasculine sense of agency in the face of an emasculating consumer economy. Comparing the narrator-Tyler character in Fight Club to the protagonist of Patricia Highsmith's novel The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), Alex Tuss (2004; see Further Reading) argued that both works present a violent critique of conventional masculine success. The role of existentialist philosophy in Palahniuk's novels has also attracted the interest of scholars, who have tended to focus on both the despair and hopeful possibilities of his characters’ experiences. Antonio Casado de Rocha (2005) studied the interrelated themes of individual freedom and responsibility in Fight Club, Survivor, and Choke, finding that each novel features a central character who overcomes alienation and existentialist fear by becoming involved with some form of community. David Cowart (2013) linked the themes of Choke to works by American authors Philip Roth and Flannery O'Connor, whose characters are often portrayed as struggling to overcome existential alienation. Despite their cataloging of existential despair, Jesse Kavadlo (2005) asserted, Palahniuk's novels are essentially uplifting moral romances that suggest human beings "must communicate, love one another, and survive." Craig Barnes