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This novel by Chuck Palahniuk is a collection of short stories. Seventeen unusual people, all of whom happen to be writers, are invited by the mysterious Mr. Whittier to attend a three-month writer's workshop. Instead, they decide to destroy themselves both mentally and physically, telling highly dramatized versions of their own life stories in between chopping off body parts. What results is a Deconstruction of reality TV shows, and a whole lot of Squick.

Some of the stories have supernatural elements. Most have sex — lots of sex. It never becomes clear how much of them is made up by the characters as they go along. Although quite a few of them (often the ones that sound downright impossible) are very closely based on real events.

The novel's first chapter, "Guts", was published in Playboy magazine well before the book came out proper (presumably as a warning). Palahniuk did readings of it during his worldwide book tour for Diary. Over 80 people fainted.

This book contains examples of:

  • Adam and Eve Plot: The end of Mr. Whittier's second story, "Obsolete". It's never clarified if it's really happening in-universe or it's just a story he made up.
  • Arc Words: Onstage, instead of a spotlight, a movie fragment...
  • Black and Grey Morality: Good. Gravy. Absolutely NO ONE in this book gets off clean. If they didn't do something horrendously evil in their story, then they became a Complete Monster during the writer's retreat. The closest thing to a "good guy" we get is Ms. Clark and even she murdered her daughter.
    • There's also Miss America. Even though she's a catty bitch, the worst thing she does is eat Cora Reynolds...the cat, not the lady.
    • Miss Sneezy is also fairly innocent, the thing that needs to be kept in mind though, is that with the exception of Ms. Clark, even the ones who don't dirty their hands just stand by while the others do.
      • Cora Reynolds was just trying to protect innocents. She was one of the few people in the book with altruist motivations.
  • Black Humor
  • Body Horror: The Baroness Frostbite, whose mouth has been reduced to a greasy hole without lips due to...guess.
  • Brown Note: A Real Life one, if you can believe it. Chuck has read the short story "Guts" several times while promoting the book, and almost everytime, someone has fainted. There's also accounts of others reading this story to their peers with similar effects. Oddly, New Yorkers seem to be immune to the story's effect.
    • As an anonymous audience member responded when Palahniuk expressed surprise that no one had fainted: *snort* "This is New York City York."
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: "Guts". Horrifyingly (or hilariously) enough, all three accounts are based on true stories.
  • Downer Ending: It's pretty much hinted that everyone dies.
  • Driven to Suicide: One of the people who looked into the Nightmare Box.
  • Eats Babies: Miss America is pregnant at the beginning of the book and goes into labour around the time everyone has entered Donnor Party Mode. And just because the situation wasn't horrifying enough the others bring her some baby stew afterwards. Luckily(?) it's possible she died before eating it.
  • Foot Focus: Mother Nature's story.
  • Gag Boobs: Mrs. Clark... the story behind them isn't very funny, though.
  • Genre Savvy
  • Granola Girl: Mother Nature
  • Groin Attack: Director Denial's story describes how a fellow Social Worker became so fed up with the local cops having sex with the anatomically-correct dolls she used with sex crime victims that she put razor blades in its orifices. Not to mention the Matchmaker's story. Shoo-rook.
  • Ill Girl: Miss Sneezy
  • Improbable Weapon User: Bowling ball?
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Double subverted in a brilliant way. Everyone assumes Miss Sneezy has poor health due to her sneezing all the time. In reality, she sneezes all the time because her sinuses are wrecked...from walking several miles underwater when she escaped from the island she was being held in for carrying an incredibly deadly airborne virus.
  • I Taste Delicious: That's what Comrade Snarky thinks until she notices a familiar tattoo. "You fed me my own ass?"
  • It Got Worse
  • Knife Nut: Chef Assassin
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: The seventeen writers, Mr. Whittier, and Ms. Clark.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Mr. Whittner.
  • Meaningful Rename: The first poem, "Guinea Pigs", discusses how they got their names: each of them was named after a sin or something that they did that got them in trouble. To quote the poem, "the opposite of superhero names".
  • Mind Rape: Whatever the "Nightmare Box" does.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party
  • Official Couple: Invoked. Saint Gut-Free and Mother Nature believe that a romantic couple will draw sympathy from audiences.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Everyone who isn't Mr. Whittier or Mrs. Clark.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The boy and dog from "Hot Potting?" They're real. Sadly.
    • At least part of "Guts" is true: Faulty pool drains can and have sucked out people's intestines. Former politician John Edwards made his name representing a five year old girl who suffered that fate.
      • Actually, all three stories in "Guts" are true stories recounted to Chuck, the first two by friends, the third by a man he met at a Sexoholic's meeting (research for Choke).
  • Sacrificial Lamb: They tried to invoke this trope on Miss Sneezy, but it ends up being Lady Baglady instead. In fact, Miss Sneezy survives until the end of the story.
  • Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere
  • Shotacon/Lolicon: If anatomically-correct dolls count. Also, "old" Mr Whittier is actually a progeria-suffering thirteen-year-old, and makes money by seducing wealthy women and then threatening to turn them in as child molesters.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: In-universe, Chef Assassin. He doesn't like critics.
  • Stepford Smiler: Miss America. She acts at all times like she is on camera.
  • Straw Feminist: Comrade Snarky and her clan. Granted, many of them have good reasons for being distrustful of men, but it really doesn't give them the excuse to essentially rape a man woman who may or may not have been born a man.
  • Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: According to the museum curator, the Nightmare Box contains the truth of reality, which drove three people into a state of near-madness.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Possibly. There is the potential for tons of it. Keeping in mind that these people are writers, it's easy to start second guessing their stories. When the stories first acquire an air of Magical Realism and then become increasingly fantastic, it is left up to the audience to decide what to believe, (if anything) and what to doubt (if anything).
    • Especially considering that two of the stories are about biological mutations and psychic abilities.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Saint Gut-Free referred to his attempts at underwater masturbation as "Pearl Diving".
    • Specifically the act of collecting the little "pearls" of ejaculate from the pool
  • Younger Than They Look: Mr. Whittier, a thirteen year-old suffering from progeria.