‘Guts’ by Chuck Palahniuk

Now, I don’t know about you, but I remember the hype and furore around this story when it was released. Reports of people fainting in the audience when Palahniuk read it out loud, suggestions to ban the sick filth of it by newspapers, reading it out to your mates to make them squirm and get dizzy. Not until ‘Cat Person’ was published do I remember a short story being so hyped – and this was way before social media existed. The story itself: a boy is finding different, increasingly more extreme methods of masturbating, until one day he is wanking in his swimming pool and is attracted to the pull of the pool drain, leading to what a doctor would call, trans-anal intestinal evisceration. It’s a rough read, graphic and bloody and gross, but it’s brilliantly represented on the page. ‘Guts’ was a total masterclass in extreme literature being allowed in to hallowed spaces like the South Bank (where I saw Palahnuick read it). It was published in Playboy and if I remember correctly, also in a UK newspaper. I think this would prove to be Palahniuk’s last great work, following great novels such as Fight ClubLullaby and Survivor.

First published in Playboy, 2004, collected in Haunted, Vintage 2005

‘Guts’ by Chuck Palahniuk

I think it was Mike Harrison who nudged me in Palahniuk’s direction. He’d read ‘grow and grow and grow‘, a short story I wrote for Barbara Campbell’s durational performance 1001 nights cast. In an email, he’d said something about it having traces of splatterpunk and suggested I might like ‘Guts’. He was right: I love it. It’s outrageous. “Grody to the max,” to borrow from Moon Zappa in the 1982 hit single, ‘Valley Girl’. And I like it even more having discovered, via Wikipedia, that over 70 people have fainted in response to it. Although I don’t know whether they fainted in response to the subject of the story or because they obeyed the commands of the first four sentences:
Take in as much air as you can.
This story should last about as long as you can hold your breath, and then just a little bit longer. So listen as fast as you can.
From here, my fifth story should probably be taken from Harry Mathews’ Singular Pleasures, but I think one reference to masturbating is enough for this anthology. Less is more etc.
Available online here and forms part of Haunted (Doubleday, 2005) but originally published in Playboy, March 2004