Once upon a time in her New York Times review of Rant, Janet Maslin perfectly captured an image of Chuck Palahniuk’s fiercely devoted fanbase. “Mr. Palahniuk doesn’t write for tourists. He writes for hard-core devotees drawn to the wild, angry imagination on display and to the taboo-busting humor at which he usually excels.” To see that statement illustrated in life, one needs only attend one of Palahniuk’s author events. On Oct. 28, he brought his Better Than Sex tour, in support of his new novel, Beautiful You, to Boulder. The event was hosted by the Boulder Bookstore, but held at the First Congressional Church of Boulder, a setting that seems at odd with the Palahniuk’s trademark nihilism, but turned out to be strangely appropriate. Once he took the stage the Church of Chuck was officially in session.
Instead of reading from Beautiful You Palahniuk spent the evening sharing the most depraved stories that fans have shared with him, explaining that people see him as so devoid of morals that they can and do share their darkest secrets with him. These recollections were met with gales of applause, as where the bags of candy periodically tossed into the audience, the games and the as yet unpublished stories Palahniuk did read. Those tales and other new short stories will hit shelves in 2015 as part of the upcoming Make Something Up, but until then fans can devour his newly released novel, Beautiful You.
If you’re new to the wild and wonderful world of Palahniuk, Beautiful You, may prove a curious point of entry, but those above-referenced devotees are certain to appreciate this sardonic play on what we might call the 50 Shades of Grey effect, and the often stagnant depiction of female sexuality in popular culture. The novel is a quick read at 240 pages. It follows Penny Harrigan, a young law clerk who feels unexceptional and spends most of her nights with a pint of butter brickle ice cream. That is, until a mortifying work incident leads her to meet C. Linus Maxwell. A billionaire affectionately known as “Climaxwell” in the tabloids and on the tongues of celebrity gossip devotees.
Against all odds this chiseled and handsome object of affection asks her out. A date she assumes is a one-time pity gesture that ultimately leads to an affair that’s more a sexual odyssey driven by Maxwell’s need to fine tune his new line of devices for women called Beautiful You. Products, the tag line cheekishly asserts, that will replace a billion husbands. Penny may have been unspectacular, but she was never dim-witted, and she soon discovers the nefarious plot and purpose behind Beautiful You and must align herself against its creator in a battle for the free-will and liberty of women everywhere.
Only Palahniuk’s mind could take us down this path. In his capable hands a satirical comment on the tired cultural trope that women can be tamed by orgasm becomes a struggle with global implications and a reality with the desperation of a young adult dystopia.
Often darkly comic and always outrageous Beautiful You is unmistakably a Palahniuk work. As fun as it is to read, however, the story doesn’t linger long after closing the back cover. It’s a satisfying conclusion, if one that lacks the resonance of some of his earlier works. It’s a twisted, warped odyssey with the power to leave you shaking your head in disbelief. It’s not Palahniuk’s best work, but he’s certainly not off-form either, once again delivering a work that is decidedly not for tourists.
Title: Beautiful You
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Length: 240 pages
Publish Date: Oct. 21, 2014