The latest book churned out by a formerly grand writer. Either he's no ability to determine quality anymore or he just doesn't care. Barely for fans, not for anyone else.
I have read every book Chuck Palahniuk has written so far. Apart from about half the essays in Stranger than Fiction none have been worth reading since Choke (2001).
Snuff is just the latest in a string of novels that are so far from marks set earlier the publisher should really reconsider. In short, the story is about 600 men waiting to have sex with a former famous porn star so she can set an unbreakable record. Apart from the actress only three men (#72, #137, and #600) and the casting woman, Sheila, have few have speaking parts. Each man has his background story that we get in pieces since it is a mystery of sorts—and given that, I can say no more by way of plot.
By way of analysis, no one is who they say they are. This gives nothing away, just points to an obvious point. None of the men have real names, just actor names or simply numbers. If there is anything clever at all about Snuff this is it, and it is the stuff of under-graduate creative writing. I know that sounds vicious, but I just finished the thing and that is the best thing I can come up with. There are attempts at being funny at naming porn films based on real film names (so easy a 12 year old could do it) and the various ways that one woman can come up with to describe the act of masturbation without actually saying the word. This leads to . . .
Mr. Palahniuk has fallen into the trap of lists. Snuff, along with the above, lists various ways actresses and actors killed themselves as their careers ended due to age or the advent of sound and lists of poisons. Rant had its list of poisons, poisonous animals, sexually linked after-effects and any antidotes. Haunted had a series of different ways to kill people; Diary had a strange list of the ways various cultures would put things through a threshold before passing into a house for the first time or what should be put in what place during a renovation (Africans in the bush did this, Armenians did that . . .). Earlier books had this, but there was, in fact, a story that the lists resided (the series of “John” books in Fight Club and the list of color codes for an AIDS quilt in Invisible Monsters that was so funny I had to put the book down several times). Not so here. The best thing I can say about Snuff is that it is a sparse 197 pages.
I keep thinking that he will be able to catch the magic he had in Fight Club, Choke, and most especially Invisible Monsters which has to be the funniest book I’ve ever read. Each of these novels pushed the bounds of taste, but they were all clever, intelligent, engaging. I actually cared about the characters; they were people, not just numbers with a mind full of lists. So far I have been disappointed at every turn of every page.
I wanted to laugh, I wanted to care. Instead I just wanted to finish. Snuff is short (even for a very slow reader like me) so getting to the end wasn’t going to take long so, while I want the time back, I cannot be considered a fair-weather fan. I didn’t like it. I don’t recommend it to anyone who is not familiar with his work. If you are, then you will (like me) read it anyway.
He has become so consistently bad lately that I am seriously considering not getting Pygmy due out next spring according to Wikipedia.
My advice is for him to take a break, maybe even a few years, reread his first four novels and see if he can sniff the wind that made them. If he keeps going down this path, he will become his own farce during his lifetime.
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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?
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.