Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

Written by: Chuck Palahniuk

Published: 2008

Synopsis: In the crowded greenroom of a porn-movie production, hundreds of men mill around in their boxers, awaiting their turn with the legendary Cassie Wright. An aging adult film star, Cassie Wright intends to cap her career by breaking the world record for serial fornication by having sex with 600 men on camera—one of whom may want to kill her. Told from the perspectives of Mr. 72, Mr. 137, Mr. 600, and Sheila, the talent wrangler who must keep it all under control, Snuff is a dark, wild, and lethally funny novel that brings the presence of pornography in contemporary life into the realm of literary fiction.

Guys, I'm a little sad. I think I'm officially hopping off the Chuck Palahniuk bandwagon. As much as I loved Haunted, Fight Club and Survivor, Snuff was the final nail in the coffin, and it makes me sad. I want to like Palahniuk, I really, really do. But as good as his books can be, they can also be a real yawn-fest. How the hell does a book about a porn star trying to break the record for most guys banged in a row get boring?! Well, I'm going to tell you.

I really enjoyed the first few chapters of this book. Palahniuk manages to really capture the seedy, nastiness of this whole endeavour. 600 guys crowded in a room, eating junk food, sweating and popping viagra just so they can say "Yeah I was there, I was number X to bang Cassie Wright". Those first few chapters transport you right into the thick of it and man, it will make your skin crawl. Honestly, I'm never going to be able to eat corn chips or popcorn again.

While the story broadly looks over the entire room of sweaty, horny men, it concentrates mostly on 3 guys and the PA, Sheila. Though they're eventually named, they're mostly referred to as Mr 72, 137 and 600. Each of these guys is here for a different reason, to help out a friend, to rekindle a dying career, to 'rescue' Ms Wright, but as the book continues we learn that they have a few things in common. The direction of the story is pretty easy to spot a mile off once you start to read, but I'll avoid giving away any spoilers in case you want to read it for yourself. Nevertheless, the majority of the book covers the internal and external discussion of these three men, with the snooty PA weighing in every now and again. Personally, I think I would have preferred a non-traditional narrative that laid out the stories of all (or a big chunk) of the guys who decided to take part in this world record attempt. A patchwork of different stories, guys who expect to get something out of it, guys who were bored on their lunch breaks, young teenagers looking for a neat way to lose their virginity. I think that would have been a far more interesting and illuminating story. Instead you get a join the dots type of story that begins to pull away from the interesting concept and focuses too much on these three losers. And they are losers, all three of them. They are not nice guys, they're gross and stupid and irresponsible and shallow. Losers.

Each of these three guys ends up narrating the chapters, along with the PA, who fills in a lot of the background on why the aging porn star, Cassie Wright, would even consider trying to break this record. The PA's chapters were probably the most interesting, and mainly because they contained Cassie, who seemed like a mix of Marilyn Monroe, Courtney Love and Paula Yates. However, this cross narration style meant that there was never any real depth added to the characters, you'd read their perspective for three pages, then the next guy would retell it from where he was standing and add a little extra, and then the next guy would tell it all over again. it was a little repetitive, and lacked any real drive.

Which leads into my biggest complaint, and the reason why I think this might be my last Palhniuk least for awhile. After reading a few Palahniuk books, it's fairly easy to see his "style" emerge over and over in every book. Instead of giving his characters any real depth, they have literary ticks that set them apart. For example, Sheila says "true fact" maybe 10,000 times in this book. She says it so often that I felt like my head might explode. Sure there are some people in real life who have catch phrases, but each character has some version of "true fact" that they churn out over and over, just in case you forgot whose chapter it is. Preceding the "true fact" was usually an obscure statement about porn or actresses/actors who died doing the craft they loved. Sound familiar? Remember the little statements about how you can hand-make nitro-glycerine bombs or napalm in Fight Club? Remember reading similar little stories in Lullaby and Survivor? The first one or two had me curious, is Palahniuk the king of hunting down obscure facts for his book or does he make them up? After that it grew boring and all I could think about was how often he uses this device in his books. It's not so quirky and unusual if you read it in 6 separate books, regardless of how different the subject matter is. Now that I'm quite a way into Palahniuk's oeuvre it just comes across as lazy writing, as though he has a template and just fills in the blanks with whatever subject happens to be the focus of his new book.

Snuff wasn't a bad book. I was interested enough to get through the whole thing, and there are definitely some quotable lines mixed up in it all. And the end is...well, spectacular and bonkers are two words that come to mind. But it isn't anything to rave about. It's a so-so book about what could have been a very interesting premise. Add in all the template, repetitive bullshit and it's enough for this average book to turn me off Palahniuk for good. Maybe I just had him on too high a pedestal. Fight Club was an amazing book, and Haunted blew my mind. Considering they were the first two of his books that I read, I guess it isn't really surprising that the rest of the excursion into his work has come off maybe try the book for yourself, maybe I'm just too disillusioned to give a proper, objective review. I'm sure you won't hate it, but will you love it? Who knows guys, who knows.


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