BOOK REPORT Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk
My mileage tends to vary with transgressive fiction. A lot of the time I find it too tediously “shocking”, like a late-stage Family Guy episode. In the case of Snuff by Fight Club’s Chuck Palahniuk, however, there is a funny and engaging storyline going on.
Porn star Cassie Wright is planning to cap her career by breaking the world record for most men pleasured missionary-style on camera, aiming for 600. The story then unfolds in the green room, a basement equipped with TVs playing Wright’s back catalogue (From Her to Eternity, World Whore One, and so on), a chips-and-soda buffet, and semi to fully nude men with numbers felt-tipped on their arms like cattle. We follow the alternating first-person perspectives of numbers 72, 137, and 600, as well as a feminist producer called Sheila.
One impressive thing about the novel is how much research Palahniuk clearly did into behind-the-scenes legends of both the porn and entertainment industries. Like a lot of transgressive fiction, Snuff has an obsessive and repetitious focus on certain elements – reminiscent of Bret Easton Ellis’s constant listing of everyone’s branded apparel in American Psycho – but it never quite becomes tedious.
This may partly be because it’s a short novel, coming in at just under 200 pages. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s quite funny. You have to admire the writer’s facility for coming up with names for porn parodies, and there are some deliciously savage plot twists.
Perhaps surprisingly, Snuff is even moving at times as well. The story isn’t just an extended piece of shock-jockery. The characterisations feel real and there’s a strong sense of how tragic these people are, pursuing one last shot at notice in an entertainment industry built on exploiting the wreckage of their lives and needs.
Of course, the whole thing is done with a level of grotesque sexual detail and political incorrectness that will understandably be a barrier for many people. I felt my bile rising at such lovely similes as “as thick and red as a f*****’s a**hole”. But I’m guessing you wouldn’t be picking up this novel if you didn’t expect, well, transgressive material.