After a couple of stories that arguably fit with the horror theme, Palahniuk shifts gears. There's nothing vaguely terrifying, eerie or mysterious going on in this story. In it, Miss America and a "slick guy" sit in the green room of a television studio where some mid-sized town's local version of "Good Morning, America" is produced. They are there to sell products, she an exercise wheel, he a set of investment tapes.
The SG is the more experienced of the two, so a large part of the narrative is taken up with his advice/commentary on these TV shows and what it takes to succeed on them. We learn a little about Miss America's back story. She was once fat, but through diet and exercise thinned down to the point where she looked much better. She is also given to wearing pink. There's not really much else to her. As she herself says, "Losing all that blubber is the only really heroic thing I've ever done... If I gain it back, than it'll be like I never lived." I wonder if it's intentional for this character, so objectified and labeled by society that she has become shallow, to be portrayed in such a superficial way. Is it just poor writing, or does Palahniuk want us to know that he, too, is part of the problem?
As for Mr. SG, he's one of those typical Palahniuk creations who can rattle off facts about some chosen field. Here his obsession is broadcast media, especially television. One of the facts he sites is how cameras collapse three dimensions into two, rendering everything flatter. Because of this, faces with many angles look more interesting than those with less. Advances in image technology, however, tend to relatively bring out the details of faces, so those sharp angles might seem less attractive on current broadcasts than they used to. You could argue that Palahniuk's general point about the way the medium distorts reality is still true, but I wonder if his topicality means that some of his fiction will date rather quickly.
We learn that Mr. SG's parents were both product spokesmen who traveled from town to town to appear on morning shows. His mom is dead, but his dad, who didn't stick around for very long, is the old guy who is currently in the studio of the same station, his presentation delayed by some national catastrophe.
Overall, it's a pretty dull story. If Miss America weren't such a one-note character, seeing her back story might be interesting. Definitely no horror elements, save perhaps the horror of being around people lacking in personalities. There's some potentially interesting commentary about how mass media ends up altering what it portrays, though this hardly provides any deep insights.
Donald Hall (1928-2018)
3 weeks ago