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Snuff: A Novelby Chuck Palahniuk
Aging porn-queen Cassie Wright plans to retire on a high point by having sex, on film, with 600 men. Yes, the title *is* Snuff, but it's not what you think. Not for the faint-of-heart, the graphic content is raunchy, bizarre, and shocking but also laugh-out-loud-hysterically funny. While Palahniuk can be an acquired taste, he is at his very best here.
Synopses & Reviews
From the master of literary mayhem and provocation, a full-frontal Triple X novel that goes where no American work of fiction has gone before...
Cassie Wright, porn priestess, intends to cap her legendary career by breaking the world record for serial fornication. On camera. With six hundred men. Snuff unfolds from the perspectives of Mr. 72, Mr. 137, and Mr. 600, who await their turn on camera in a very crowded green room. This wild, lethally funny, and thoroughly researched novel brings the huge yet underacknowledged presence of pornography in contemporary life into the realm of literary fiction at last.
Who else but Chuck Palahniuk would dare do such a thing? Who else could do it so well, so unflinchingly, and with such an incendiary (you might say) climax?
"Palahniuk's audacious ninth novel tells the story of Cassie Wright, an aging porn queen who intends to put an exclamation point on her career by having sex with 600 men in one day on film. The story begins with Mr. 600 — the pornosaur who introduced Cassie to the business — as he describes the other 599 'actors' awaiting their moment on screen. The perspective then shifts to Mr. 72, an adopted Midwestern 20-something who is one of the many young men claiming to be Cassie's long-lost son. Mr. 137, a has-been television star hoping to revive his career, wants to ask Cassie's hand in marriage so that the two can star in a reality TV show. But for a novel centered around a gargantuan gangbang, there's surprisingly little action; the small amount of narrative movement takes place backstage, where the characters attempt to get a sense of one another while waiting for their number to be called. There are sharp moments when Palahniuk compassionately and candidly examines the flesh-on-film industry, but mostly this reads like a cross between the Spice Channel and Days of Our Lives." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Chuck Palahniuk is the gross-out cartographer of the modern male id, a gutter-brained romanticist and a wildly popular, if queasy-making, authorial voice. Palahniuk's tremendous appeal (particularly among hard-to-reach younger adults) isn't hard to fathom. He specializes in pitch-perfect renderings of the Disaffected White Guy — a Freudian roil of biological functions and body issues, longing, confusion,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) anger, vulnerability and a big dash of bourgeois honky ennui. Charges that Palahniuk is some transgresso-capitalist huckster ring false. As a shock auteur, your shelf life is limited. After a couple of books, readers know you're out to yank their crank, and soon you're just Marilyn Manson with a publishing contract, a Toontown ghoul prompting more yawns than shrieks. A fly on the wall of the clown college that is the cult of North American Masculinity, Palahniuk is a source of revelation with a stack of best-sellers behind him. If his sentences are occasionally rough-hewn and his endings a bit too fantastical, so be it. No other contemporary writer makes raging against the machine so compulsively readable. Given the shock value of porn in our culture, it's no surprise that Palahniuk would seize it as a subject, though his latest novel, "Snuff," explores skin flicks from an angle that's more tepid than titillating: the grim business of production. A snuff movie is a mythical pornographic creation in which a performer actually dies during the climactic sex act, but here, the title "Snuff" refers to the termination of a working life: A stereotypically bleached and flossy adult megastar named Cassie Wright wants to close out her legendary career by setting a world record: partnering with 600 men in a single picture. It's a one-day shoot, and the backstage lot of this Herculean project is the setting for the book, random guns-for-hire wandering around, ruminating on their motives and trying to psych themselves up for their close-up. Told from the alternating perspectives of performers number 600, 137 and 72 plus talent wrangler Sheila, "Snuff" is less about Cassie than the minor players in orbit around this fading star. Mr. 600, himself a red-light veteran, knows the old saw: "The way to get a babe to act in a blue movie is you offer her a million dollars. The way to get a dude is you just have to ask him." Then, he thinks to himself, "That's not actually a joke. Not like a ha-ha joke." His compatriot, Mr. 137, is a bronzed and powdered autograph hound who (literalism alert!) carries an autographed stuffed hound, named Mr. Toto. Mr. 72 is a junior varsity Jesus freak who assigns maternal significance to his love for Cassie. Young Sheila is both taskmaster on the set and right-hand girl to Cassie, helping her with everything from make-up to bikini waxing. Her grisly retellings of the length to which various Hollywood stars have gone in pursuit of fame and longevity are among the book's highlights. In the same way a person goes to the movies not just for the cinematic offering but also for the jumbo bag of Twizzlers, one reads Palahniuk not only for the story but also for the nonfiction nuggets he tosses in. "Snuff" includes facts about the intricacies of gang tattoos, the way morticians keep bugs out of a corpse's nose and how Annabel Chong, the real life star of "The World's Biggest Gang Bang" was influenced by Roman empress Valeria Messalina. He also has fun riffing on the porn tradition of bastardizing pop culture into skin flick titles, like "Three Days of the Condom" and "Frisky Business." Although "Snuff" is graphic enough to make even a cursory excerpt all but impossible in a family paper, the book is curiously prim and reverent about the female body — no egregious slut-baiting, and the leading lady is still a super-star at 40-something. (Note: This does not happen in real life; you're punted into the "MILF porn" niche at about 30.) Even the Jesus freak kid, a prime candidate for a bit of Bible-bred misogyny, turns out to be a lost soul with a Madonna complex: "Right now, up those stairs, the lady behind the door, she's ... a shrine where you pilgrimage a thousand miles on your knees to pay tribute. ... Every man here might hate every other man, outside of here we might all kill each other, but we all love her." The World's Largest Gang Bang is a perfect metaphor for the impersonal, endlessly gnashing porno maw that chews up adult performers like so many artificially sweetened snack items, even if it's not the grossest game in Porno Town. To the last page, "Snuff" is a moralistic work, but not in the way of tedious, partisan bickering about the dangers of porn. "Snuff" is, instead, a meditation on immortality, ambition, the lure of risk, the need for stability and, ultimately, on leaving a legacy. The question isn't why Palahniuk would take on such an off-putting subject, but rather, what took him so long. Chuck and porn. Porn and Chuck — the two go together like fists and brass knuckles, moth and flame: a fatalistic coupling that happens to be, also, a perfect match. Lily Burana is the author of "Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America" and the forthcoming "I Love a Man in Uniform." Reviewed by Lily Burana, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Snuff is unavoidably distasteful at times but ultimately hard to resist. (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"Only Palahniuk would devise this off-putting premise; only he, too, could manage to build it into an entertaining and suspenseful dark comedy....Snuff isn't for everyone...but readers who can stomach its subject matter will find striking characters, sharp parody, and a tight plot....Highly recommended." Library Journal
"[O]ften biting, often hilarious, often awful, but always compelling....Palahniuk has crafted a world of sex devoid of titillation, where human suffering is shelved for a few moments when the cameras begin to roll..." Los Angeles Times
"[A] spare and effective one-act play; a refreshingly simple tale told start to finish by a writer who often piles on the mind games and reverse chronologies." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[T]he author has greatsport inventing porn-film titles (To Drill a Mockingbird, Chitty Chitty Gang Bang). The sordidness might appeal to Palahniuk's cult following, but it won't extend it." Kirkus Reviews
"[Palahniuk's] an original, and there is something heady about the risks he takes as a writer. But, ultimately, his ideas are more interesting than his writing — some readers are bound to ask why they're hanging around someone who keeps beating them up." Booklist
"Chuck Palahniuk is the likeliest inheritor of Vonnegut's place in American writing." San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
"Suffice it to say the humor here is as bitter as week-old Starbucks' dregs....Palahniuk makes reading this book about making porn flicks as un-arousing as possible." Hartford Courant
About the Author
Chuck Palahniuk's eight previous novels are the bestselling Rant, Haunted, Lullaby, Diary, Choke — which was made into a 2008 film by director Clark Gregg, starring Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston — Survivor, Invisible Monsters, and Fight Club, which was made into a film by director David Fincher. He is also the author of the nonfiction profile of Portland, Oregon, Fugitives and Refugees, published as part of the Crown Journeys series, and the nonfiction collection Stranger Than Fiction. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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