DoubledayMay 4, 2010
My thanks to the Amazon Vine Program for sending this book. I am a huge and long-term fan of Palahniuk's books so I was eager to get into this one. Although a bit slow at the beginning, it turned out to be an awesome satire well worth sticking around for. One of the biggest criticisms I've read about this book is that this is not the same Palahniuk who wrote Fight Club (which is one of the best books I've ever read, quite frankly), but I tend to get a bit tired of hearing this sort of thing. People blasted Ian McEwan's Solar because it wasn't the same McEwan that wrote Atonement or Saturday -- but come on. Why aren't our favorite authors allowed to do something different once in a while? Is that such a bad thing? If I were an author I'd be bored staying within the confines of the same mold of every book I'd previously written and I would want to be different once in a while.
(note: page numbers are from the galley copy, not the finished work)
Without going too much into plot details, Tell-All is a sendup of that genre of book which according to Palahniuk, Walter Winchell called the "bile-ography," and especially of those who write them -- the "literary equivalent of a magpie, stealing the brightest and darkest moments from every celebrity..." (33). I give you the Kitty Kellys of the world who latch on to the seedy details of a person's life hoping to sell millions of copies based on reader titillation, or the Christina Crawfords who publish their hard-life stories that deface the public image of their celebrity parents, showcasing "flaws and faults" to hopefully launch their own careers (83), which Hedda Hopper (the famous gossip columnist), according to the author, would call a "lie-ography." (96) But it's not just biographies in the spotlight here. The book is also a satire on those who get caught up in celebrity worship and gratuitous name-dropping, and on the celebrities themselves for whom life imitates art. The famous people whose names are highlighted in bold print in Tell-All may be unfamiliar to modern readers, because the book is set in Hollywood's heyday, but substitute any modern celeb name and it's all the same. Nothing much has changed, down to celebrity adoption of less fortunate babies.
--intermission and illustration--
a)a few years back, my husband was flying from FL to CA and heard a conversation between two men sitting in the two seats ahead of him. One man was going on about how he was an exec at a record company in Los Angeles, and asked the other what he did. The second guy said "I work for Will." He went on to tell him that he'd just talked to Will that morning, and yada yada yada Will this, Will that. As the conversation progressed, "Will" turned out to be Will Smith, and it turns out that the guy was the principal of Will's kids' school.
b) there was a secretary at a school where I once taught in Los Angeles whose claim to fame was that she used to be in "the business" (like big deal, everyone in LA is either in the business or wants to be). Every day she'd tell whoever would listen about how she rubbed shoulders with the likes of Beyonce, and other popular singers. On and on and on, each day someone else's name would drop from her lips, holding her co-workers enthralled with her stories. Turns out she was a receptionist for Warner Brothers music.
--back to the review--
But this is Chuck Palahniuk, a master of the postmodern, and the best part of his book is his treatment of that other form of -ography, the autobiography. To say more would be to wreck it for others, but consider that one of the central characters in this novel is Lillian Hellman, author and playwright, who was notorious for penning a series of memoirs in which the facts weren't always the facts. I'll leave it to others to figure out...I ended this book with a huge chuckle. And I liked it.
Read slowly, don't focus on the names too much ...there's an awesome and very ironic story here that will make you either laugh at the end or smack yourself in the head when you figure it all out. To all the naysayers of this book -- go read it again -- it's near genius. This is a book that demands active reader participation...you have to think about this one.