Chuck Palahniuk’s Fugitives and Refugees 10 Years Later.
In junior high, they give you To Kill a Mockingbird. In high school, it’s The Catcher in the Rye. In Texas, we presume, they give you a Bible and a gun. In Portland, sooner or later most new arrivals are handed a slim, smudgy volume that looks to have been stained by coffee and burnt by cigarettes. It is adorned on its front by an ominous gang of bleary-eyed Santas.
“This is the best book,” your friend tells you.
Chuck Palahniuk’s Fugitives and Refugees was published on July 8, 2003—10 years ago this Monday. It’s a travel guide to a Portland that no longer exists, a calico mutt of misfit humanity that was dispersing even as its pages were written.
But transience is the book’s essential virtue: It does not describe a Portland you are expected to visit. It’s instead a lens by which to see the Portland before you today, a compendium of the oddball and fringe and by-the-wayside that has become central to how our city understands itself.
Unlike the Portlandia television series—or myriad proper guidebooks—Fugitives treats its subjects not with shallow bemusement but with humane generosity, plus a touch of sadness that it will all pass unnoticed.
Palahniuk may always be best known as the author of Fight Club, but in this city, Fugitives has touched the broadest range of people. I carried it around for a month while researching this article, prompting a succession of strangers to meekly approach.
“That is the best book,” they say.
He almost didn’t write it.Originally, Palahniuk declined Crown Publishing’s offer to write a hometown travel guide. “I was on deadline for another book,” Palahniuk tells WW from his home in the Columbia Gorge, where he moved for solitude in 2005 after the death of his mother. “I said, ‘If you pay me what you paid Michael Cunningham [for Land’s End, a guide to Provincetown, Mass.], I’ll do it.’ Michael had a book called The Hours out, and it was the biggest thing in the world for that year.”
Guides generally become obsolete the moment they are written. Cunningham’s book is now out of print, alongside every other guide in the series except one: Fugitives and Refugees.
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