‘Fight Club’ author dons PJs, reads dark works at ‘Adult Bedtime Stories’ event

Given the Chuck Palahniuk formula – a healthy mix of satire, characters breaking from the confines of oppressive social norms, and plenty of wit – the format of the author’s event on Monday night made perfect sense.

In typical fashion, Palahniuk read two of his stories, answered audience questions, and gave out autographed copies of his newest book, “Doomed.”

But he also encouraged guests to arrive in their pajamas (he himself began the evening in a pajama set, red silk robe and bunny slippers), periodically paused to toss toy pigs and stuffed animals into the audience, and received questions through the random selection of glow-in-the-dark beach balls, which audience members wrote their questions on and then tossed into the air when he asked the house to dim the lights.

Palahniuk has published 14 fiction novels – his best known being the 1996 cult classic “Fight Club” – and two non-fiction books. The first of his readings Monday was the short story “Zombies,” which will be published in the November issue of Playboy.

“This part is like sex. Your part is to be there and be quiet until I’m done,” Palahniuk joked as he transitioned from answering questions into beginning the reading. “That was my version of being a pig.”

In the story, a high school student watches as his peers begin to lobotomize themselves with defibrillators they find hanging on walls in the school and around town.

“I had the idea for that story two years ago and I mentioned it when I first started seeing those defibrillators everywhere. Friends of mine are paramedics so I asked them what would happen – would it get you high? That was originally it, I think: would that solve my depression? Would that be like electroshock therapy? And my friends who were paramedics said no, it would lobotomize you. It would destroy your brain,” Palahniuk said.

A year later, a friend told Palahniuk that he couldn’t get the idea out of his head.

“I realized the premise worked. It was really engaging,” Palahniuk said. “I sat down and wrote the story. And in a way it wouldn’t have been written if the friend hadn’t remembered me mentioning it once.”

His second reading, “Cannibal,” was published in Playboy earlier this year. Somehow filled with humor and innuendo, “Cannibal” tells the story of a young man who accidentally eats aborted fetuses.

“I try to write stories that will allow you to engage people not just on a mental level and an emotional level, but also on a visceral level,” Palahniuk said. “If I can achieve engagement on all three levels – your mind, your heart, your genitals – then I’ve got your whole reality. So many books deal with either your mind or your heart, but they never really go below the belt.”

Palahniuk said he uses violence, illness, drugs and sex to evoke a visceral sensation.

“I always go to one of those four for that aspect of the story,” Palahniuk said. “They tend to be very sympathetically engaging. They come in under your radar.”

The under-the-radar approach is a favorite of his, he said.

“Humor does that, too. Humor allows you to kind of slip the knife in. You say something funny and then you say something heartbreaking,” Palahniuk said. “That’s what I was taught as a writer. It’s great to make people laugh. But if you can make them laugh and then break their heart in seven pages, that’s what you want to do.”

Palahniuk has announced titles and release dates for his next two novels, which will be published in 2014 and 2015.

“I doubt I ever lose the joy and the utility of writing. Writing is my way of dealing with aspects of my life that I can’t resolve in the moment – horrible things that I just have to be with. You know, illness and death of someone I love or whatever unresolved, unresolvable horrible thing has happened,” Palahniuk said. “I need to find a metaphor that allows me to feel like I have some kind of distraction and control over the thing. I think I’ll always do it.”

The event was hosted by Wichita State and Watermark Books & Café, and took place in the CAC Theater.

Secondary education major Adam Cameron said the event was his first author reading.

“I had a great time. I’ve always been a fan of his books and it’s just great to hear him read his stories in person and find out what he’s actually like,” Cameron said. “The way that he writes is very clever. He comes up with ideas that go so far beyond what most other writers would even think of.”