Palahniuk’s 600: A big number with lots of curves

Chuck Palahniuk’s new novel will make you wince like a good joke on the British version of “The Office.”

Justin Flower

When writing his new novel “Snuff,” Chuck Palahniuk must have sat down and thought that what his readers needed was a classic tale of a young man’s attempt to reunite with his long-lost mother – at a 600 person gang-bang.

“Snuff”

AUTHOR: Chuck Palahniuk
PUBLISHER: Doubleday
PAGES: 208
PRICE: $24.95

“Snuff” is about an aging adult film star, Cassie Wright, attempting to break the world record for number of guys scrogged in a row. Four varying perspectives narrate the story, which is set in the green room of a porno shoot. They are eating M&Ms and applying bronzer with hard-ons ready, waiting for their chance on camera. Mr. 72 is an 18-year-old kid carrying white roses, looking to finally meet his biological mother. Mr. 137 is an out-of-work actor carrying a stuffed dog covered with fake celebrity autographs, looking to jumpstart his career. Mr. 600 is an over-the-hill porn star with a heart-shaped locket; enclosed is a pill of potassium cyanide. Keeping the chip and condom bowls full is where we find our fourth perspective, the production manager, Sheila, with her clipboard full of cash bribes from guys wanting to get a better position in line.

“It’s so much more interesting to have a larger-than-life character and have others talk about them,” Palahniuk told the audience at last Wednesday’s book signing.

Palahniuk, who has a cult-like following, has created another easily marketable book. “Snuff” takes the phrase “sex sells” literally, and his hugely successful book tour/bar crawl is evidence that it’s true.

If you think you don’t know who Chuck Palahniuk is, you’re probably wrong. Anyone who hasn’t seen his novel-turned-feature-film, “Fight Club,” must have been held for 19 years in an Austrian basement. In much the same way that brutes all over America started copycat fight clubs af-ter seeing that film, similar face-value interpretations can be made about the meaning of “Snuff.” But, inevitably, the rogue author dives deeper.

“All my books are about moving from a state of being cut-off to a state of being vulnerable, a state where people can connect with others,’ said Palahniuk.

“Snuff” – funny, witty, garish, humiliating, and revolting – is also sincere and sad, not devoid of its own system of imperfect morality. It will make you re-examine your perspective of the porn industry, making you more sympathetic to one aspect of it and angry at another. You might even question why you look at porn (or reaffirm why you don’t) in a way that’s all together different from the guilt trips used by neo-conservatives or bleeding-heart liberals.

Some parts of the book, mainly the end, seem over-fictionalized and larger than life. The 600-person gang-bang is the spectacle that attracts the reader’s attention until the personal narratives take over. With the carnal circus acting as a backdrop for the various characters battling for attention, a “grand finale” of an ending seems compulsory. Palahniuk delivers with his own brand of fireworks, but instead of being the grand shower of sparks you remember as a kid, it’s a horrid accident that leaves the reader maimed and wondering “What just happened?” Or even worse, “Really? Is that how it ends?” The multitudes of entwining stories join together disappointingly, each one with its own agenda careening toward the same transparent climax, which becomes plainly obvious halfway through the book. You are then left hoping for a great ending to disprove your suspected plot twists, but no, you were right.

Overall it’s an enjoyable read. Palahniuk’s pace is fast and fairly easy to follow; jokes come when you need them, and titillating porn titles like “The Importance of Balling Ernest” or “Snow Falling on Peters” continually offer cheap laughs.

A&E gives this book three out of five erect penises.