Thursday, May 22, 2008
Chuck Palahniuk has a penchant for writing stories that induce nausea and laughter simultaneously.
“Guts,” his short story that appeared in Playboy in 2004, replays three true tales of masturbation gone horribly wrong. His 2002 novel Choke tells the story of a med-school dropout with a three-part agenda: pretending to choke on food in chic restaurants, picking up women at sex addicts meetings and caring for his elderly mother. His most well-known novel, Fight Club, which became a cult-classic film, examines anti-consumerism and underground boxing matches.
In Snuff, Palahniuk’s literary escapades into humankind’s seamiest and darkest corners continue into the world of pornography. The novel is loosely inspired by porn star Annabel Chong’s world record of 251 sex acts over a period of 10 hours.
Death is a recurring theme, stalking the protagonist throughout the book. The novel also is a lasting stare into the porn industry and how it takes itself so seriously. But thanks to the acidic, remorseless mouthpieces that tell the story, Snuff also delves into a deeper and more relatable sub-plot about family.
And it’s funny, ranging from a scene involving shards of overused sex toys mistaken for parasites, to tales of how Marilyn Monroe kept her breasts perky.
Palahniuk uses one character, Sheila, to tell sex-related yarns that pepper the book, including a claim that Adolf Hitler invented the sex blow-up doll, “to keep the bloodline pure, and prevent the spread venereal disease.”
By definition, snuff films show a real death on screen. Be forewarned: This novel lives up to its title. But not how you might expect. In fact, death occurs in one of the book’s funniest scenes.
The premise is a film shoot featuring a veteran porn queen’s attempt at greatness, a “world record for the ages”—serial fornication with 600 men.
Palahniuk paints a pornographic landscape that is filthy. The reader is taken to a squalid, two-story movie studio with one bathroom in the San Fernando Valley burdened by 600 half-naked guys, who gorge on barbecue potato chips and candy with one hand while shaving their pubic areas with the other. (“On the buffet, they got laid out Tupperwares full of condoms next to Tupperwares of mini-pretzels…On the floor, plastic wrappers from candy bars and condoms, bit and chewed open,” says one of the men in waiting.)
To Drill a Mockingbird and The Blow Jobs of Madison County are among movies continuously looping on televisions surrounding the waiting area.
On the second floor Cassie Wright awaits the extended conga line. Lubricated and spread-eagle on white satin sheets, Wright sips orange juice through a straw under hot movie lamps.
The record-setting day is told from the perspective of four characters: Mr. 72, Mr. 600, Mr. 137 and Sheila.
Mr. 72 is a coy high school kid armed with a bouquet of white roses. Mr. 600, also known as porn king Branch Bacardi, has had a long professional and personal relationship with Wright. He’s called on to be the final thrust of her conquest. Mr. 137 is a former TV star yearning to be on camera one more time. Sheila is Wright’s assistant and crowd wrangler. She carries a clipboard, stopwatch and disgust for the 600 men.
Palahniuk creates a vivid world that is at once mesmerizing and disturbing.
Doubleday’s marketing campaign for the novel features a faux-movie trailer for The Wizard of Ass, a faux-porn flick starring the fictional porn queen, Cassie Wright as Dorothy and her fictional porn king counterpart, Branch Bacardi as the Scarecrow.
The two-minute trailer ends with the announcement: “See all of Cassie Wright’s audacious classics including: The Twilight Bone, Chitty Chitty Gang Bang and her final and most amazing endeavor, with a cast of 600, Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk.”
“If I can make people laugh about death, laugh about fights, laugh about pain,” Palahniuk told Spike magazine, “then I’ve done my little thing for the world.”
Snuff accomplishes all of the above.
SNUFF is available at Borders or www.chuckpalahniuk.com. Published by Doubleday. $24.95.