All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players. – William Shakespeare
What is the cost of beauty? If you go all in on your looks, what lengths will you go to seeking attention for your long eyelashes, lean legs, toned abs? And when you lose those looks, what is left of the person when the pretty is stripped away?
Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters takes a deep, twisted dive into those murky waters. This is the tale of Brandy Alexander, a pre-op transexual who was thought to be dead by her multi-monikered sister, the narrator of the tale. Sister narrator was always a beauty and grew to be an up-and-coming model in the fashion world, until she is shot in the face by her lover Manus … or her best friend Evie … or maybe neither. She awakes in the hospital to meet Brandy, a big, brash, beautiful product of multiple plastic surgeries financed by three brothers who made a fortune in dolls. And from there, it’s a non-stop race to defy beauty and seek truth, no matter how ugly said truth may be, until the walls close in and everything burns to the ground.
In true Palahniuk fashion, Invisible Monsters isn’t nearly as simple as this previous, vague paragraph suggests. The author lays out the case for pure, simple beauty as a wonderful thing that is then marred, manipulated and repackaged for sale as just another consumer product. “Shotgunning anybody in this room would be the moral equivalent of killing a car, a vacuum cleaner, a Barbie doll. Erasing a computer disc. Burning a book. Probably that goes for killing anyone in the world. We’re all such products.”
Narcissism is an industry, just like technology or manufacturing. The lengths – both physical and financial – to which our model narrator and Brandy will go to either to enhance their looks or re-create themselves is startling. Waxes, dyes, make up, dresses, shoes, diets, drugs, nips, tucks, implants. Money, money and more money, to fight that nasty aging and freeze their perfect countenance in time for as long as possible, projecting the flawless mask to the camera, the photographer, the entire world, and hide that invisible monster that no one wants to know exists.
The grotesque nature of the proceedings, the absurdity of this pursuit of eternal and false perfection is the perfect world for a mind like Palahniuk’s to explore. I’d encourage you to jump into the journey and take the ride.