May 23, 2008

“Snuff” by Chuck Palahniuk

Reviewed by Mark Lindquist
Special to The SeattleTimes.

“Snuff” by Chuck Palahniuk Cassie Wright is about a porn superstar in the twilight of her career who decides to go out with a bang, so to speak, by setting a world record for serial fornication on film.Six hundred dudes. One porn Queen. A world record for the ages.

Reviewing Chuck Palahniuk’s ninth novel for a family newspaper is a challenge. Palahniuk, the author of “Fight Club,” has written what his publisher describes as a “thoroughly researched” novel that “brings the huge yet underacknowledged presence of pornography in contemporary life at last into the realm of literary fiction.”

Is this just what you’ve been waiting for? If so, read on.

Cassie Wright, porn superstar in the twilight of her career, decides to go out with a bang, so to speak, by setting a world record for serial fornication on film.

“Six hundred dudes. One porn Queen. A world record for the ages. A must-have movie for every discerning collector of things erotic. Didn’t one of us on purpose set out to make a snuff movie.” Right off we know somebody is going to die in the end, and that this book, like most of Palahniuk’s work, is about sex and death.

For the next 208 pages we learn about Cassie, the men and the porn industry. Our narrators — Mr. 600, a producer who started Cassie’s career; Mr. 137, a television actor hoping to revive his career by marrying Cassie; Mr. 72, one of the young men who claim to be Cassie’s love child; and Sheila, the “talent wrangler” — are brought together in an endeavor Sheila likens to climbing Mount Everest. “Snuff” actually serves as a history lesson on sexual landmarks. You will learn that at one time the world record for serial intercourse was 251, set by Annabel Chong. You will also learn that Annabel Chong was inspired by Valeria Messalina, the wife of a Roman emperor and a legendary slut. You will further learn that the blowup sex doll was invented by Adolf Hitler.

“To keep the Aryan blood lines pure, and prevent the spread of venereal disease, he commissioned an inflatable doll that Nazi troops could take into battle. Hitler himself designed the dolls to have blond hair and large breasts. The allied firebombing of Dresden destroyed the factory before the dolls could go into wide distribution. True fact.”

True fact is one of Palahniuk’s refrains here, and whether or not the many true facts about sex and death and pornography are actually true, I don’t know, and it seems beside the point. This is an absurd dark comedy about damaged people and the point, to the extent there is one, seems to be that seeking attention can end badly. Palahniuk delivers on the “thorough research” his publisher promises, and his descriptive skills, his love of language and his weird humor are in top form.

Incidentally, the best thing about this book are the movie titles: “To Drill a Mockingbird,” “A Separate Piece,” “Gropes of Wrath,” “Snow Falling on Peters,” and many more I can’t list here. I can’t tell which ones are true, and which ones Palahniuk made up, which tells you something.