07 July 2009

Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

I've always been an avid Chuck Palahniuk fan. He's a little more transgressive than I usually prefer, but I can't get over the absolute beauty and wonder that is his style of prose. Oddly enough, its poetry almost overshadows the storyline in some novels, because I find his storylines to sometimes be only so-so.

Most people know Palahniuk from his first novel, Fight Club, or his latest novel-turned-film, Choke. Both are good books (and movies), but I've always loved Lullaby most of all. Maybe later today I'll do a Lullaby quotes post--then you'll understand.

His latest three books are (in order of publishing) Rant, Snuff and Pygmy. I seem to remember reading something about these three being somehow connected (back when Rant came out a couple of years ago), but I don't remember where I read it or what it said, and I haven't been able to find it since. I heard from a friend that Rant wasn't very good, so I skipped it (but I bought it in paperback to read later) when I read reviews that said Snuff was brilliant.

Snuff tells the story of an aging, legendary porn star, Cassie Wright, as she tries to reclaim her fame. She decides that the best way to do this is to create an epic gang-bang porno with 600 men performing various sex acts filmed in succession. The narrators are Mr 600, another aging porn star with a Cassie Wright history, Mr 72, a young kid with flowers and a dream, Mr 137, a recently scandalized and sexually confused television actor with nothing to lose and, finally, Sheila, Ms Wright's assisstant/ talent wrangler who has an interest in unusual true stories. Chapters bounce from narrator to narrator, maintaining the scene of debauchary and disgust that is a room full of 600 naked men waiting their turn to do whatever it is they want to do, each looking for God only knows what. Each narrator has a hidden agenda revealed to the reader in turn, and just when you think you've got it all figured out, a classic Palahniuk plot twist makes your jaw drop.

First of all, this plot, though nasty, sounded extremely interesting to me. I've never read anything quite like it, and I need an element of mystery in a novel to enjoy it fully. I often ruin books, movies or television shows for myself because I predict the plot. While some elements of this story were indeed predictable, I appreciated the ending twist. Some of Palahniuk's endings almost try too hard, seemingly coming out of nowhere and serve little more purpose than to shock; the ending of Snuff, though throughly disgusting, was appropriate and sensible, considering the plot, while still managing to use that shock factor and surprise the reader.

As surprising as this may be, I think Choke was nastier than Snuff. I read Choke as a junior in high school, so maybe it was exclusively the perspective from which I read it. Still, this plot had the potential to scar me for life, but it left me with little more than apathy. There was something that I can't quite identify, whether it's Palahniuk loyalty or some hidden interest, that kept me from putting it down. I purchased Hey, Nostradomus! a few weeks before Snuff, but I couldn't manage to get through it. I was just so bored. I read half of it in a day, and it was good, but not good enough to finish.

I hate to conclude with something so vague, but I can't think of any other way to describe this book. It's a good read for those of you interested in modern, slightly transgressive fiction, and it's a good read for Palahniuk fans. I rate it better than Choke or Survivor, but not nearly as good as Fight Club or Lullaby. Of the five Palahniuks I've read, it belongs smack dab in the middle.

Thanks for reading! Constructive criticism welcome.

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