Confession. I forgot this chapter existed until I started reading it. It isn't that it isn't well written or it's a toss off, it's that I blitzed through the book so quickly when I read it as a kid that I missed what it was saying so it didn't stick. Going through again, more slowly, I see what Palahniuk was trying to do. I'm not sure what teenage me thought was going on in this chapter, mostly because she forgot it, but I suspect she came away with something different.
Last chapter, I observed that Carl desperately clung to objectivity and being detail-oriented to avoid actually dealing with his past, and commented on how he wasn't a very trustworthy narrator because he fails to own his own bias. This chapter is basically extrapolating on that. There is a lot of Carl wallowing in his own depression, anger, and smug sense of superiority, which causes me as a reader to feel conflicted. On one hand, dude's got some very real reasons to be a depressed little angst bucket and angry, and I'm sympathetic to that. On the other hand, he's smug and superior and that makes me want to go get the bees.
You have no idea how long I have been holding onto this .gif
I was at work and I noticed a customer holding a copy of Choke, another Palahniuk book. I asked how he liked it, having read it many years ago. He paused, "I really like the writing but... the characters are all so unlikable." I warned him all Palahniuk books were like that. I have to give Palahniuk credit for willingly, knowingly, and repeatedly writing unlikable characters, but it does make them harder to get through without reaching for your handy crate full of bees sometimes.
Most of the laugh tracks on television were recorded in the early 1950s. These days, most of the people you hear laughing are dead. [...]
These people who need their television or stereo or radio playing all the time. These people so scared of silence. These are my neighbors. These sound-oholics. These quiet-ophobics.
Laughter of the dead comes through every wall.
I want to take a moment to remind you all that Carl is at least 40, and in fact not a college freshman. The whole chapter is spliced with him hearing his neighbors TV/radio/screaming through the walls and floor and ceiling. He is surrounded and constantly assaulted by noise (his floor and table even rattle from it) throughout this chapter. He literally starts to describe it in terms of war, battle, and assault.
This is the arms race of sound. You don't win with a lot of treble.
This isn't about quality. It's about volume.
This isn't about music. This is about winning.
You stomp the competition with the bass line.
You rattle windows. You drop the melody line and shout the lyrics. You put in foul language and come down hard on each cussword.
You dominate. This is really about power.
The outside world is literally invading and attacking Carl as he tries to go about his business from his perspective. Any act of creating noise in a public space, is an invasive attack.
Anymore, no one's mind is their own. You can't concentrate. You can't think. There's always some noise worming in. singers shouting. Dead people laughing. Actors crying. All these little doses of emotion.
Someone's always spraying the air with their mood.
In between Carl lamenting his neighbors being jerks, and how big brother is not watching us but controlling us by filling up all our attention (no really he even uses the phrase "big brother isn't watching. he's singing and dancing" and I nearly took out the bees) he goes about building a model home. He goes to the store, limping, and buys it without seeing the package at all (we're told it was $149). He goes home and meticulously blinds himself to what he's about to build, takes it out of the box in a dark bathroom, puts the box and instructions back in the bag and takes just the pieces out and begins to build. This is something he does regularly, sometimes he trashes the models by screwing something up, sometimes he doesn't. This time he doesn't and he takes us through in minute detail of attention he's pouring into this tiny house. In between building we get glimpses into his past, and how he is (not) coping.
There are worse things than finding your wife and child dead.
You can watch the world do it. You can watch your wife get old and bored. You can watch your kids discover everything in the world you've tried to save them from. [...]
The truth is, even if you read to your wife and child some night. You read them a lullaby. And the next morning, you wake up but your family doesn't. You lie in bed, still curled against your wife. She's still warm but not breathing. Your daughter's not crying. The house is already hectic with traffic and talk radio and stream pounding through the pipes inside the wall. The truth is you can forget even that day for the moment is takes to make a perfect knot in you tie.
This I know. This is my life.
This is all spliced with "advice" he wants to give parents of children who have just died. Things like taking up a hobby (such as building meticulously detailed model buildings without instructions), and:
These people with a dead child, you want to tell them, go ahead. Blame yourself.
Carl is not just depressed. He's turning his mental distress into physical disability as a coping mechanism. That tiny house he is building in such detail will be set on the ground, he'll take his shoe off, and then he will go Godzilla on its ass. He will stomp it to bits, and injure his foot in the process. His depression, this self-harm, has given him a bad foot as well as an inability to deal with anything for any length of time.
You might move away, but that's not enough. You'll take up a hobby. You'll bury yourself in work. Change your name. You'll cobble things together. Make order out of chaos. You'll do this each time your foot is healed enough, and you have the money. Organize every detail.
This isn't what a therapist will tell you to do, but it works.
He blames himself for the death of his wife and child. He can't stand the idea of waking up and facing his own thoughts, let alone his past, and he resents everything and everyone for being able to handle their own. It seems impossible to him. So he sneers at them for refusing to allow themselves to think--because that's the only way they possibly could. Otherwise they would all pack up, move, and assume a new identity every few years. The only reason they can settle down and lead "happy" lives is because no one except for him thinks, because he's just such a special nihilistic little snowflake.
This is the bit where I start screaming THERAPY FOR ALL! Except he's obviously already tried that. Instead he opted for running away and smashing up tiny buildings as often as possible.
The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close-up.
The shortcut to closing the door is to bury yourself in the details.
Oh hey look, that sounds a lot like how he approaches his job doesn't it? Carl's entire life is a series of activities for the sole purpose of trying to outrun his own thoughts, and up to the point where we meet him, he's failing.