Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

No question that Chuck Palahniuk knows how to set-up a story. His latest novel, Snuff, is conceptually and structurally rock solid. Fading porn star Cassie Wright is on the comeback trail, trying to set the world record for greatest number of sex acts recorded on film. It’s a 600 person gangbang. But Palahniuk’s novel takes doesn’t take place under the bright lights of the set, but rather in the waiting room of the shoot. We spend the entire novel there with numbers 72, 137, 600 and Sheila, the talent wrangler. No book or movie about the porn industry is ever all that sexy or fun and Snuff is no different. The waiting room is stinky, sticky and as it turns out full of insecurity. No. 72 believes he is Cassie Wright’s child who was given up for adoption and he’s on a quest to save her. No. 137 is a has-been tv actor with a sordid, homo-erotic past who, over the course of the book, is popping an alarming amount of Viagra. No. 600 is a fading porn star in his own right. Meticulously shaved and slathered in bronzer, he has his own set of neurosis to contend with. For her part, Sheila is repulsed by all 600 men waiting their turn. She is steeped in feminist theory and is oddly suited for her job as the assistant to a porn star. It’s quite clear that things are not going to work out so well for all the participants involved. For the most part the book delivers an entertaining mix of humor and degradation, a nice combo to be certain. But, as with other Palahniuk books I’ve read (Choke, Diary), I feel that Palahniuk does not always gracefully weave his research into the fabric of his story. Instead, he often wears his research on his sleeve. Sections of the book are nothing more than a listing of factoids. No. 72 gives a dissertation in list form on prison and gang tattoos. Cassie Wright rattles off lists of celebrity beauty tips and grizzly movie star deaths. Sheila rattles off dozens of euphemisms for masturbation. In these instances I’m no longer hearing the characters talking, I’m hearing Palahniuk showing off how much he knows and how much he’s researched. All great tidbits, but not satisfactorily delivered within the context of the story. I always like Palahniuk, but I never love Palahniuk, but I’m always willing to give him another shot. I’m told Fight Club is the one to read and that’ll be the one I tackle next.

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