Let me start by saying that I didn't pick this book up 'cause I'm a huge Chuck P fan. I liked the film of his book Fight Club, but the only novel of his I've read is Choke, and I found it to be muddled and rather weak. However, I did live in Portland for four years in the early '90s, when I was going to college there, so this seemed like a cool book to check out. Palahniuk's vibe is clearly aimed at the 15-50 quirkster/hipster demographic, and he hits on all cylinders with his portrait of the city nicknamed "Little Beirut" by Ronald Reagan and George Bush the Elder.
The book is broken up into twelve chapters. "Talk the Talk" presents the key bits of PDX slang you'll need to sound like a local (most of which were unknown to me). "Quests" lists fourteen different "adventures" or things to do in and around the city. Samples include visiting the famous self-cleaning house, or spending an afternoon in eviction court. "Chow" is on food, of course, and is probably the most disappointing chapter. "Haunts" lists sixteen places to commune with ghosts and spirits in places like haunted hotels and bathrooms. "Souvenirs" is a throwaway two-page chapter listing five offbeat places to buy stuff. "Unholy Relics" is a list of nine offbeat museums, like the Vacuum Cleaner Museum.
"Getting Off" is the longest chapter, and as one might guess, it's all about the city's sex scene, from strip bars to swinger clubs. Notable is the annual "I-Tit-A-Rod" race, in which the goal is to visit as many strip clubs in twelve hours as possible (no one has come close to making all fifty). A more genteel chapter follows this, highlighting the city's more interesting gardens and parks. "Getting Around" is a relatively tame hodgepodge of transportation related sights, including a decommissioned nuclear submarine. "Animal Acts" is almost entirely about the Portland Zoo, with small sections about the feral cats of Portland Stadium, and a few pug-related items. "The Shanghai Tunnels" is about Portland's legendary tunnel system and the
variety of tours one can take through them.
Palahniuk moved to Portland after graduating high school in 1981, and separating each chapter are "postcards" of his time in the city. These are brief stories and escapades that chart a chronological course of his becoming more and more involved in Portland. Particularly hilarious are his tales of the annual "Santa Rampage" (imagine several hundred Santas battling riot police), and an end of the millennium party at the old Baghdad Theater. As a whole, the book is not one likely to be endorsed by the Portland Visitors Bureau, which is kind of the whole point of it. Like any city, Portland's civic leaders would like to present a shiny, happy facade of bland progress. Fortunately, we now have Palahniuk's valuable unsugarcoated portrait, one which only someone who truly loves the city could have penned.
Being a long-time resident of Portland, Oregon, I know that there are plenty of quirky locations in the city. Fugitives And Refugees by Chuck Palahniuk reminded me of that...
This is one of those strange little books that will probably only appeal to those who live (or have lived) in the city. It's sort of a travel guide, personal diary, and social commentary of Palahnuik wrapped into a single small volume. Each chapter that deals with locations or places to see is followed by a "postcard" from the past that relates a personal experience. These are really bizarre stories, and you'll either really like them or wonder why they are even in the book. The chapters on locations list such things as restaurants to see, the most haunted locations in Portland, and museums that are worth visiting. Many of these sites are *not* five star locations you'll see in any other travel guide, like Wacky Willy's Surplus. But it will send you down the path to the off-beat side of Portland.
The part I found most interesting is the chapter on the Shanghai Tunnels. Portland was a notorious port in earlier days, and most of the bars and hotels at that time were connected to an underground tunnel system. These tunnels were used to "shanghai", or abduct, people and smuggle them onto ships for forced labor. There were also opium dens and other uses for these underground passages. Over time they deteriorated, but there are now guided tours and efforts to restore them as part of Portland's past.
Is the book good? It's got moments... For me, it was more hit and miss, however...
Rare for American cities, Portland, Oregon is widely loved by its inhabitants despite the fact that the city has so few of the typical tourist attractions other American cities can claim. One of Portland's finest novelists, Chuck Pahlaniuk, had the great idea of celebrating the weirdness of the city in a guide book that emphasizes what makes Portland so singular a city: its odd urban legends, its ghosts, its ever-increasing and especially its ever-present opportunities for seaminess and sex. What you get in the end is a very funny look at a very funky city, enlivened by Palahniuk's sober wittiness. The book does seem a bit of a rush-job in that it doesn't sustain a narrative as much as it could have: many of the ideas seem tossed together, and the work could have benefitted from more historical material (Portland's history is every bit as weird as its present). But nonetheless this is an inexpensive delight.
on February 22, 2004
While certainly not for everyone, this little book belongs on many a shelf as well as in many a backpack - here's why (or why not, as the case may be):
* A fan of Mr. Palahniuk's work? A Must Have. Biographical sketches, funny and sad, poignant and pathetic, give flashbulb glimpses of the man and insight into his writing. As pure entertainment, 4.5 out of 5 stars.
* Looking to do something different in Portland, OR? Assuming all of the attractions noted haven't been overrun and wiped-out by rabid Fight Club wannabes, Fugitives and Refugees will lead you to some seriously off-the-map attractions. 5 of 5 stars but, like any travel guide, F & R will become less and less useful over time until it becomes a snapshot of a historical moment, "Chuck's Portland As It Was".
* Travel guide fan? Armchair explorer? Love reading about all those places you just know you'll never actually take the time to visit? This is among the oddest guides you'll find. 4 of 5 stars. Point off for its brevity.
* Jaded Portland Local? Too hip for your asymmetrical haircut? Got a "been-there-done-it-all-bought-the-ironic-tee-shirt" attitude? Do you now dislike Mr. Palahniuk and his books because of his popularity? 5 of 5 stars for you since this little book will give you more self-righteous "I Told You He Sold Out" proof to drop on your friends over six dollar lattes or twenty-five cent beers than any of his upcoming books and film releases ever possibly will.
Over-all grade: 4.625 out of 5 stars (rounded up for Amazon's whole-number system.)
I have come to love Portland as a vibrant city. It has a unique charm, the older parts of the city are being revamped, and the newest parts of the city are sytlish and upbeat. Portland is not a tourist trap, in fact, the city is fairly empty on weekends. Chuck Palahniuk introduces us to a different Portland. One I was not certain I wanted to know- he writes in a humourous vein that belies the serious stories and charms of the city. However, once I got used to his style I started to enjoy the story of his life in Portland. After he graduated from high school in Washington state, he moved to Portland. Most of his freinds moved to Seattle, but he wanted a different view. He rented an apartment with two friends. These friends stole their food supplies from the restaurants they each worked in- champagne and escargot- each night after work escargot was microwaved, and as they got a little high on champagne they would throw food on the walls.
As the book proceeds,we receive a tour of the city's strip and sex joints, a view of Powell's, the most famous book store on the West Coast and museums we would not ordinarly enter. The author meets, greets and interviews many characters to introduce the varied stories that highlight the old Portland that Chuck Palahniuk grew to love. As a side note this is one of several Crown tours of cities by well known authors- I am eagerly awaiting Kinky Friedman's book of Austin and Ray Bount Jr's book of New Orleans. The map of Portland is not familiar at first view but will be by the end of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed this view of Portland and will remember it every time I visit the city. prisrob
on July 9, 2003
Well i guess the first is to say that this book is non-fiction. Its basically a bizarre travel guide to Chuck's hometown of Portland. The power of chuck is that he can take a place that i have never been to or have seen pictures of and make i feel like have lived there my whole life. Basically he explores all the aspects of Portland that most people wouldn't cover in a travel guide. These topics include: where to get a piece of bum in Portland, the strange museums, the sewers, and haunted places. An while most chapters have some really interesting stories, there are some damn boring ones in the collection. Things that you read and go "i really didn't need to know that," but luckily that only happened 2 or 3 times in the 176 page book. I think the real gems are the "postcards" that separate each chapter. These are autobiographical glimpses into Palahniuk's past and they give you a look at the man who would later write bestsellers like Fight Club, Choke, and Lullaby. Chuck made this book interesting and I'm happy to have read it. Any Palahniuk fans will enjoy this book for at the least the autobiographical postcards. For new Palahniuk fans i suggest this fictional work that i mentioned above and his novel Survivor.
on October 14, 2003
This is Chuck Palahniuk's travel guide to Portland, Oregon. He gives a pronunciation/terms list so that visitors won't sound so much like outsiders when talking to local residents. Knowing the other work of Palahniuk, you can go into this book expecting this to be an unconventional travel guide. Palahniuk has a unique outlook on life and what is worth seeing and he presents that in this book.
There is no narrative in this travel book, but it is broken up into sections. In each section, Palahniuk lists (and describes) various things to see and do in Portland. One section may be on eateries, another on haunted locations, yet another on gardens. In each section, we are given off-the-beaten-path ideas of what to do and where to go in Portland. Even if you have no interest in traveling to Portland, this makes for an interesting book to read. You get a sense of the city and the city's fringe elements. It gives a different flavor than what you might expect from a Fodor's travel guide. I would recommend this book to fans of Palahniuk or anyone looking to read an interesting and different travel guide.
on December 7, 2003
This isn't a novel, it's something of a travel guide, just in case anyone was still uncertain about this aspect. This is almost like William Burroughs' "Junky" being a guide to New York City in the 1940s, except it's not in a novel format. It's not your traditional Fodor's Guide to Nonsensical Travel, this is a pretty loose, irreverent, and different take on the city Palahniuk calls home, Portland, Oregon. This is almost like William Burroughs' "Junky" being a guide to New York City in the 1940s, except it's not in a novel format.
I like this book because it introduces you to a side of Portland that is not often seen or written about in mainstream and tells the reader about the oddball characters, bizarre happenings and goings on, and provides a guide to some irreverent, half-assed, and often fascinating landmarks that you wouldn't find elsewhere, including many places special to Palahniuk himself.
That said, Palahniuk is flat-out misrepresenting his city. I've been to Portland frequently, and while it is an interesting place, Palahniuk really hams up his prose and descriptions here to the point of being disingenuous. Palahniuk manages to make Portland out to be as addictively seedy as a 1980s-era Times Square, as full of creative miscreants as pre-tech boom San Francisco, and as gloriously full of bohemian life as 1920s Paris. This is simply not the case, Portland exists on a much smaller scale, as I'm certain its residents would attest to. It is somewhat disappointing to see Palahniuk shill so badly for his city as to distort matters this far... reading this one would think you're going to run into a mad drunken artist every moment.
I also have to question the wisdom of Palahniuk writing this novel. Since it has been published, Palahniuk has publicly bemoaned that some of what he has written about has disappeared, or even been changed by the attention he's brought. It seems rather blind of him not to have anticipated this... as it's been throughout time with humanity, like in Alex Garland's fine novel "The Beach," when you bring relatively unknown things to wider audience, often they are ruined or changed for the worse.
If my feelings about this book seem mixed, I can assure you - they are.
on July 12, 2003
"They" being City Hall and the Portland Business Alliance. But with the likely exception of the rather full chapter on the local sex industry, this headline is something of an exaggerated description of Chuck Palahniuk's Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk In Portland, Oregon.
Right from the start of the book -- the Introduction and "A Portland Vocabulary Lesson" -- can be laugh-out-loud. Which sort of sets you up for a kind of whiplash when you get to some of the darker bits.
Actually, the juxapositions -- frentically funny to nearly depressing to almost prosaic (there's a section of recipes from local restaurants, for crying out loud) -- can be very jolting. But that's part of the charm, and if you don't go for that sort of thing you should probably just stay away from the book altogether.
(Parenthetically, the map presented inside the covers of the book -- 8. Psycho Safeway ... 14. Eviction Court ... 17. Chuck Got Beat Up Here -- is close to inspiring me to put out a call for my fellow local weblog writers to create similar maps of their own, or perhaps a photo project detailing our own personal maps of Portland.)
I unavoidably smirked at Palahniuk's inclusion of ACE of Hearts, which he claims is "Portland's premier club for swingers." Before any readers here begin to wonder about me, this struck me because I used to live just across and down from this particular establishment (incidentally, in the only actual house on a stretch of SE 39th Avenue that is otherwise all apartment buildings).
Inevitably, part of the entertainment on Friday or Saturday nights was sitting on my front porch watching the ACE of Hearts patrons come and go. Most notable of these evenings was the night the club was circled by a preacher in a van, venting Biblical through a PA system affixed to the vehicle's roof.
And not to mire this post in sex, but given my current readings on Portland history, I'm horribly amused to discover that in 1912 there were so many prostitutes working Portland that the mayor "campaigned to turn all of Ross Island into a penal colony solely for sex workers."
Most surprisingly, I learned a number of curious things about the Bagdad Theater that I had not known, despite having spent a considerable amount of time there in the not too distant past, and knowing essentially everyone who was working there at the time.
Interspersed throughout the book are so-called postcards, which Palahniuk admits "aren't from places so much as from specific Portland moments." Easily the best of these is "a postcard from 1995" in which he describes a late-night visit to the Apocalypse Cafe.
What we have is an almost random tour through the bits of Portland that don't show up in City Hall conversations about, say, livability or economic development. Which, in a sense, is odd, because represented in this book is precisely the sort of local culture and economy that ultimately makes Portland, well, Portland.
But those conversations always come with baggage, most pressingly in some sense the question, "Livability for whom?"
In the end, Fugitives and Refugees documents the cultural livability actually down here on the ground, rather than the pie-in-the-sky visions that pump like so much factory ash from the Portland Development Commission. Portland is far more about Stripper Bingo and the Adult Soapbox Derby than about Major League Baseball, and I'll likely go to my grave believing it shouldn't be any other way.
on July 9, 2003
If you're reading this you probably already have plans to buy the book and nothing here, good or bad, will sway you either way. And that's fine. If you stumbled here not because of the author, but because you are interested in Portland, I may have a few words for you.
If you love Palahniuk and haven't paid much attention to what this book is about then let me tell you, it isn't a novel. It is in essence and collection of oddball sites and shops and things to see in Portland interjected with memoir. The memoir is enough to sell the book to the rabid fan. There is this feeling of connection that people want when they have a favorite artist of any kind, a need for the personal. And this fulfills that need like a gourmet dinner. Quality sustenance, small meal.
If you are interested in the Oregon side of things, I'll say this: It depends what you're after. If you want the typical mall-tour of America, just looking to shop at the same stores in a different location, eat at chain restraints and have a need for safety in thought and presentation, this isn't for you. I don't want to describe this as a tour through the seedier side of town. How about a tour through the quirkier side of town. This is the stuff only long time residents can know about and you're a houseguests of Chuck and he's showing you around. A little shock, a little kitsch, but all fun.
It's written in Chuck's minimalist style and flows nice enough. It's short and you'll certainly read it in one sitting.