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This article was published 21/5/2010 (4387 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
By Chuck Palahniuk
Doubleday Canada, 192 pages, $30
A respected author with his best days behind him is a sad, depressing prospect. And with his 11th novel, American author Chuck Palahniuk has become very sad indeed.
Palahniuk used to be a satirical darling with both critics and audiences. His 1996 novel Fight Club is a deservedly praised debut of verve and strength, and subsequent novels such as Rant and Choke justly earned him comparisons to J.G. Ballard and Kurt Vonnegut.
Lately, however, the quality of Palahniuk's writings has been slipping. Yet even with the heartily disappointing Pygmy (2009), Palahniuk was still an author trying out some new moves. But with Tell-All, his fourth novel in as many years, he simply gives up, delivering a novel as negligible in size as it is in ambition.
With the antics of a fading oft-married movie star a la Elizabeth Taylor combined with Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond serving as its focus, Tell-All is an excursion into the classic Hollywood of the 1940s and '50s.
Written in a style akin to gossip tabloids of the time (complete with boldface font for every name mentioned), the novel promises on its surface to be a devastating dissection of celebrity, classic Palahniuk fare.
Palahniuk's star is the once-famous Katherine Kenton, an actress now "earning applause, not for any performance, but for simply not dying."
The roles have dried up for Miss Kenton, the only script on her night table "a horror flick about an aged voodoo priestess creating an army of zombies to take over the world."
Tell-All is narrated by Kenton's servant Hazie, who tends to "the endless job of dusting and polishing the not insignificant number of bibelots and gold-plated gimcracks awarded to Miss Katie."
Hazie also guards Kenton from possible suitors with ulterior motives, such as the celebrity biographer Webster Carlton Westward III, "the literary equivalent of a magpie, stealing the brightest and darkest moments from every celebrity he'll meet."
The curse of celebrity, hardly a unique theme, has always provided a rich vein for satire. There are mild hints through the pages at what Tell-All could have been, an exposé of starwatchers who crave depictions of the sordid lives of celebrities, seeking "comfort and licence in their own tawdry, disordered lives."
But the results are a misshapen mess of half-baked parody and puddle-shallow inspiration.
Tell-All is an insulting shrug of indifference from an author who once actually mattered. To misquote Norma Desmond, Chuck may still be big, but his novels have gotten small.
Corey Redekop is a Manitoba-born author and librarian living in Fredericton.