For Friday March 1st, 2013 I decided to buy and read this short from author Chuck Palahniuk. I’m only familiar with Fight Club, and have heard good things about his other works, so I thought this story would be a good introduction to his work for me. While it’s billed as sinister and hilarious, it’s very dark humor, and even I had to look back to find the absurdness in this story once completed. So…..just how can a cat ruin a marriage even in it’s death?
From the back: No author can shock readers quite like bestselling author Chuck Palahniuk (“Fight Club,” “Choke,” “Damned”), whose meditations on the darkest depths of the American ego have been known to induce fainting fits in his audiences. Palahniuk channels both Stephen King and John Cheever in this singularly sinister and hilarious short story, straight from the passive-aggressive front lines of modern marriage, where a wife’s frustration, along with the family cat, become weapons of mass destruction.
Rachel married Ted because he was uncomplicated and loyal. But he was also devoted to his wretched house (done up in black granite, black appliances, even black dishware) and his first love, an old, flatulent cat named Belinda Carlisle. Once Rachel becomes pregnant, Ted reluctantly agrees to move and give up the cat. But the house doesn’t sell, and Belinda Carlisle still haunts their home: every day the creature becomes fatter and more malodorous. When the house burns to the ground in a freak conflagration and the couple’s daughter, April, is born blind soon thereafter, the marriage is never the same again. Only on a business trip three years later does Rachel begin to reckon with the damage.
In an Orlando motel room far from Ted and April, Rachel wonders: Is her simple-minded husband more vindictive and manipulative than even Rachel could have imagined? How far will she go to keep the upper hand—a bit of emotional and physical torture, perhaps? Will she win the battle, only to lose so much else?
I’ve not really read any Chuck Palahniuk, but this one peaked my interest for Flash Friday today. Mainly because I was looking for something absurdly funny, I was in the mood for a comedy. Well, even though it says it’s hilarious…it’s not. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fantastic short. He proves that in just a short 32 pages that he can make you laugh, and make you cringe, and make you feel for the characters as if this were a full fledged novel.
Rachel married Ted because he could be manipulated, he was weak. Ted didn’t want to move, he liked his house, he loved his cat, and he didn’t care that the cat shed everywhere or his house stunk like cat piss. He also loved Rachel, but was it more than his cat?
When Rachel became pregnant she gave him the ultimatum of putting the house on the market, and getting rid of the cat, Belinda Carlisle. With the house smelling of cat, the Realtor tells them their house is over 200k above market, so they’ll have to take a hit, and that they had to do something about the smell, so the couple compromises. There was half a bag of cat food left, and Rachel agrees that Ted has until that is gone to find a good home for it.
It’s here that you find out how much of a relationship can be built on lies. The cat keeps being fed, but the bag never shrinks. Even when Rachel begins to fatten the cat up. She denies she’s fattening it up, Ted denies he’s filling the bag.
They eventually move into a new house with their new daughter after a suspicious fire burned the house (and the cat) to the ground. Their daughter was born blind, and Rachel, takes this as a sign that she was being punished for the fire. It wasn’t until three years later that she fully comes to terms with everything, in a lonely hotel room on a business trip. Just how manipulative can she be as she comes to terms with her life? Just how weak is Ted? You’ll just have to read for yourself to find out who wins. And that’s where this story shines. Yes, it kind of starts about their cat, but it’s a true story of a battle between two people who are married for what seems to be convenience and to further their own agendas than love.
The story goes from past to present in a very nice way. You don’t ever think you missed something, or that are confused as to what period of time you are in. As the story progresses you begin to loath the characters. You either will like or hate Ted. You’ll either feel sorry for him, or think he deserves everything that’s going on.
The one you’ll feel the most for funny enough, is probably the cat even though the character of April, their daughter will probably pull on your heart strings. I myself felt the worst for April, but that may be because I have a special needs son, and know how hard it can be to raise a child with different abilities. This is also the reason I came to loath both Ted and Rachel. April doesn’t speak a word, and still becomes the pawn in their little power struggle.
Bottom Line: There hasn’t been a short story in a while that has made me hate just about every character in it. While in the beginning I felt for Ted even though he was weak, by the end, I hated him. It was a slow turn, which I think may have been planned, but I really actually hated him almost more than Rachel, which when you read the story is really hard to believe. It’s only $0.99 and you’ll find yourself finishing this up within the hour, like all the other Byline.com stories (which is where I found this), but it’s a good introduction to the dark world of Chuck Palahniuk.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chuck Palahniuk is the author of “Fight Club” and “Choke,” as well as ten other novels—most recently “Damned”—and two books of nonfiction. Shooting will begin this summer on the film version of his novel of linked stories, “Haunted.” His forthcoming novel “Doomed” will be released later this year, as will the award-winning short film “Romance,” an adaptation of his work by the director Andy Mingo.
You can purchase this story and a couple other books of his on Amazon.com by clicking on the covers below: