Just when you thought Chuck Palahniuk couldn’t get any more twisted, any more sensational, any more well … wrong, the “Fight Club” author returns with “Snuff,” a dark satire of mainstream society’s unhealthy obsession with the hardcore porn industry.
This time, the provocateur sets his sights on Cassie Wright, star of “Moby Dicked,” “The Italian Hand Job” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nuts.” The aging porn star is preparing to set a world record with a 600-man gangbang.
Palahniuk has the audacity to preface the story with a quote from John Webster’s 17th century play “The Duchess of Malfi” before diving head-first into the story, which takes the point of view of three of these lucky suitors: Mr. 72 is the baby of the batch, an adopted child who brings a bouquet of flowers to the woman he naively believes to be his mother. Mr. 137 is a washed-up gay TV star hoping to get his career back on track by proposing to Cassie so they can star in a reality show together. Meanwhile, Mr. 600 is a veteran who ushered Cassie into the skin business after drugging and raping her on camera. The fourth piece of the narrative puzzle is “talent” wrangler Sheila, who also doubles as Cassie’s personal assistant.
The title refers to the widespread belief (on set) that this carnival of flesh will be Cassie’s last performance, and that she will go out with a bang, if you will. Each horndog participant hopes he will be the one with the equipment that does it. The bulk of the novel is a waiting game as the herd of half-naked men stand together like cattle, grazing on barbeque chips and ranch-flavored dip while a TV overhead plays Cassie’s filmography of smut.
Of course, Palahniuk has a few tricks up his sleeve, including a MacGuffin-esque pill tucked away in a heart-shaped locket around Mr. 600’s neck. But the true mystery at the heart of “Snuff” is the identity of Cassie’s love child, the person who stands to profit if she should die during the shoot. The answer isn’t terribly surprising given the lack of available suspects.
Get-laid charade should have no problem appeasing Palahniuk’s cult fan base but it fails to match “Fight Club,” “Invisible Monsters” and “Survivor,” having more in common with Palahniuk’s “Haunted” and “Rant” thanks to its gimmicky premise, the narrative’s multiple points of view and the claustrophobic setting in which they’re shared. Still, “Snuff” represents an improvement over the author’s low point, “Diary.”
Palahniuk’s unique world view lends itself nicely to this gang of Viagra-fueled misfits, although it is unfortunate that his characters here all sound the same, variations of the author’s subconscious libido. And the tome’s contrived climax is a little limp — a familiar fault in Palahniuk’s recent novels.