Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk / Brian Prisco
Book Reviews | June 9, 2008 | Comments ()
Chuck Palahniuk blew my fucking mind. And it wasn’t even with Fight Club, the first of his novels I read. It was with Invisible Monsters. He tends to people his novels with the dregs of society, absolute Others who wouldn’t think twice about drugging, sodomizing, or butchering their way through the herds of the vast mouth-breathers who people our malls and movie theatres. Even his non-fiction featured the tale of narcotically-engorged Santa Clauses rampaging through Portland in a debauched yearly tradition. They rarely contain a cohesive plot, sort of ambling disonantly from place to place spouting bar-room trivia and fortune-cookie wisdom in a whip-crack lingo. They’re just abnormally slathered with pop-rock anarchy, rubbing your whiskers in the wet spot. Palahniuk has tackled plenty of uncomfortable topics, most recently with a group of insane folk who crash cars for sport in Rant. So it was only a matter of time before Palahniuk would emerge from the seedy glow and squish of the porn industry in his latest novel, Snuff.
And he does it with his usual in-yer-fuckin-face, up-yer-fuckin-ass, down-yer-fuckin-throat aplomb. Snuff tells the sordid tale of Cassie Wright, a down-on-her ass porn starlet who intends to permanently shatter the world gangbang record by taking on 600 individual men. And not just by setting the bang bar high does the tread-trodden professional cock wrangler intend on leaving her indelible smear, but by potentially dying during the marathon of fuckery, with the hopes that her many insurance policies will go to her long lost love child, given up for adoption before her glory (hole) days. We don’t actually get the story from Ms. Wright, however. Instead, our story is told through the eyes of three of the potential pole jockeys, all identified only by number. Mr. 600 is an aging porn legend, who’s sagging into that semeny sunset himself. Mr. 137 is a washed-up television detective who’s using his wrinkled boner to cock-pushup his career (and rumors of his homosexuality) into life again. And perchance the most conflicted character, Mr. 72, a 17-year-old boy who lost his first load in a Cassie Wright replica blowup doll, and believes himself to be the long lost lovespawn. There is a fourth narrator, Sheila, Cassie Wright’s personal assistant, who spends her time culling studs, timing the tuppers, accepting bribes, and passing out discount Viagra.
None of these characters are particularly appealing or interesting, which says a lot for them being in a Palahniuk novel. He’s given us some of the worst humans ever to grace the pages of literature, and not just morally repugnant, but ultimately deviant. Almost every character gets wasted in a stereotype, and since the perspective keeps jumping around in a attempt to be something like a Rasho-porn, instead we get muddled bullshit from characters we can’t root for. You gotta wonder about the kind of dudes who’d show up to take their turn fucking a chick who’s about to take more dong than a churchbell during an earthquake. Obviously they’ve got issues and neuroses, but we’re too focused on these other three fellows. And each one gets wasted.
The aging porn actors, all some sort of variation on those guys who spend a little too much time in the tanning booth, are all pretty much lotharios who spend their time metaphorically comparing dick sizes with all the other dudes. They’ve all been coined with the last name of liqour products: Cord Cuervo, Biff Bailey, and Mr. 600 himself, Branch Bacardi. I guess this is some sort of riff on Jenna Jameson, but it really just feels like a lame joke. Mr. 137 is the weakest character, who spends most of his time being old and popping Viagra in dangerous amounts. No attempt is made to inspect the failed actor angle or even the homosexuality angle any further. Worse is what Palahniuk does with Mr. 72, who may or may not be the son of Cassie Wright. We’re not sure if this kid intends to actually stick it in his mom, and the fact that he actually believes the woman is his mom and he’s still going to get up in there and … get up in there could be a novel unto itself. But, no, it’s gets distracted and forgotten like the handjob guy in an orgy scene.
Then we’ve got Sheila, who comes off as a low-rent Marla Singer. You can’t tell if she’s just an uber-feminist, or just a malcontent, who spends most of her passages coming up with new versions of calling someone a masturbator. Pud-puller, baby batterer, jerk jockey. You name it, it’s probably in the novel. In fact, aside from the usual clever nuggets of trivial intrigue that usually pepper a Palahniuk story, the rest of it is splattered with terrible, terribly lame jokes. It reads like a bad email forward written by a sexual unsatiated English major. On constant loop in the background, to get the stallions stiff, are Cassie’s feature films, so we are bombarded with something in the neighborhood of 130 titles like On Golden Blonde and Beat Me In St. Louis. While there are mildly clever attempts to actually fit the literary classics like A Handmaid’s Tail and Twat on A Hot Tin Roof, the device gets dried up and crusty super-duper fucking fast.
I respect Palahniuk, because he doesn’t often make his works overtly feminist or overtly misogynistic. He tends to just have an angry, fuck the world, perspective on things. But Snuff seems to bend a little too much in the defensive, trying to make the point that porno is empowering to women, while also refusing to take that stand. While this could have played out like a Rasho-porn, everyone’s perspective on this career — and potentially literal — death of a famous woman, instead, it ends up jittering around erratically and lazily like a late night Skinimax flick. The novel is an unsatisfying length and girth, falling just a cunt hair short of 200 pages, and it never once capitalizes on the premise. Instead, we jerk around like a porno movie, shooting from wide to close up, ultimately feeling like we’re the ones who just got bukkaked. Maybe that’s the clever point that Palahniuk is trying to make, that the novel plays out like an actual porno movie, where just as we’re getting to something interesting (like a brief subplot where a Mr. 72’s stepfather is part of a group of suburban dads who go to hardcore ghettos to do research on prostitutes and gangs in order to have the most accurate and desolate model train setups ever — I’m not even doing it JUSTICE) we dash off to a closeup of someone’s hairy ass humping away.
But I’ll take a bad Palahniuk novel over most of what’s being published these days, so it’s not time to start pulling the torches and pitchforks of hipsteria out just quite yet. There are cracks showing in the facade that no amount of concealer and plastic surgery can erase. But after writing such a fucked up Canterbury Tales riff like Haunted, essentially dropping trou and whipping out a goat to the YouTube/So You Think You Can Idol society, he’s earned a pretty liberal pass from me.
Brian Prisco is a warrior-poet from the valley of North Hollywood, by way of Philadelphia. He wastes most of his life in desk jobs, biding his time until he finally becomes an actor, a writer, or cannon fodder in the inevitable zombie invasion. He can be found shaking his fist and angrily shouting at clouds on his blog, The Gospel According to Prisco.