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Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk September 20, 2014

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 8:04 PM
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A book review by Alexander Castiglione


Irrepressible literary shock-jock, Chuck Palahniuk, is back at it again with his latest release via Doubleday – Beautiful You.

The plot bullet points are simple: Penny – your plain-Jane type – is introduced to us toiling in a thankless corporate environment where she is as nondescript as a yellow legal pad in the law firm she works for. That is until billionaire lady-killer C. Linus Maxwell – referred to affectionately as Climax Well – takes a liking to her. From there, the story takes off into a sexually charged journey, bouncing from New York’s Madison Ave to the mountains of Nepal. I’ll leave it there – I think if I go into it, I’ll give too much away, and like most novels, it’s all about the suspense, build-up and surprise.

Now, the analysis: This piece is obviously a tip-of-the-hat to the 50 Shades books that have been so popular in the recent past. Or rather, a punch in the face. It’s obviously allegorical, and it’s plain to see that it’s not homage in the slightest, more like a subversive literary assault. That, however, is where this rabid Chuck fan trails off with praise. Overall, the first 50 pages or so dragged on, and it took a while for the narrator to get to the brunt of the story. However, even though this book is not particularly my cup of tea, I must admit that Mr. Palahniuk did a stellar job of weaving a story together with threads that are outlandish, yes, but also reside upon the same loom that reality is woven from. For example, he talks briefly about advertising and how the target demographic for the vast majority of products is women ages twenty-five to fifty-four. This, as anybody that works in advertising will tell you, is the golden demographic. Without revealing the story, let’s just say that there’s a consumer conspiracy that makes vertical integration look like child’s play. In that regard, bravo – the plot was definitely well thought out, in my humble opinion.

I did find the ending, and even a bit of the falling action, to be rather rushed, with the “resolution” seemingly coming out of nowhere. Like unsuspecting fauna on a dark, country back road, you’re just plodding along the pages, then whap – the ending hits. Additionally, I found the narrator, much like the narrator in the Doomed/Damned (also reviewed here) books of late – perhaps due to the criticism that a lot of his writing is too centered to be not only slightly annoying, but a rather contrived character. It seems Palahniuk has utilized the voice of the disillusioned and angry male with most of his books dripping with testosterone and rage.

Maybe. But to that I say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In my opinion, his best books, were those with borderline unlikable and often unreliable male narrators, save for Diary which was absolutely brilliant and narrated by a middle-aged woman. This could be my own prejudice, but I find his recent releases narrated by a naïve Kansan girl with big city dreams or a 13-year-old rich girl a little hard to relate to. Be that as it may, the plot for Beautiful You is still equally complex and outlandish, with the dark little observations of human nature and society that we all came to expect from the author that brought us Fight Club.

Is this book my favorite? Not by a long shot. Is it horrid? No, not at all. Would I read it again? Maybe. But since every year I fiend for a new release from Chuck Palahniuk, this was, admittedly, kind of a letdown.

I still recommend you read it, especially if you loathed the onslaught of women reading 50 Shades of Grey on the train every day on your commute. It comes out next month, October 2014, via Doubleday.


Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk October 7, 2013

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 9:32 PM
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A book review by Alexander Castiglione


Well, the old adage, “If you have nothing nice to say don’t say it at all,” that’s getting thrown out the window.  Now, anybody that reads my reviews knows I am a huge fan of Mr. Palahniuk, but his new release and sequel to Damned falls short of the mark.

Then again, maybe my expectations are too high, since most of his books I’ve read multiple times, equally enamored each time around.  Maybe it’s the fact that the protagonist is an undead tween, donning a skort, battling obesity and dealing with a serious inferiority complex; and as a twenty-something male, I find that a tad hard to relate to.  My ability to relate aside, points to Palahniuk for being able to create and maintain a unique alienated teenage voice for near 600 pages between the two novels.

Of course the book has its vile twists and turns and sordid sub-plots (no Chuck book would be complete without them), but save for the end, I found this entire piece weighed, measured, and found wanting.  A gut feeling tells me it’s part of a trilogy, and I truly hope so.

Damned, well, it was pretty damned good.  A truly twisted tale of Hades, Hell, the underworld; whatever name you put on it.  With candy as currency and pools of bodily fluids making up the landscape, it was as hilarious as disturbing.  However, it’s sequel left something to be desired.  Doomed, just like its prequel, ends with a question mark (IE The End?) and I truly hope this is prophetic of a 3rd installment, as this one left much to be desired.

Doomed comes out October 8th, 2013 via Doubleday.  Grab a copy and decide for yourself.


Damned by Chuck Palahniuk September 11, 2011

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 5:16 PM
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A Book Review by Alexander ‘Stigz’ Castiglione

Ever wonder what it was like to be in Hell? Or ever wonder what it’s like to be a 13 year-old fat girl who dies from a marijuana overdose? Well, you need not muse any longer, because Palahliuk’s newest novel gives you both viewpoints, as only Chuck can deliver: mired in unpalatable truths and tethered in the places between reason and reality.
His newest piece, which hits the shelves tentatively on October 18 2011, is your standard Chuck satire, an allegorical piece truly assaulting the notions of what is moral and what is not. It looks at our entire paradigm of “moral behavior” and what is a damning offense, and fleshes out the idiosyncrasies in our cultural logic. If you honk the horn more than 500 times in your life, say “fuck” more than 300 times, or throw more than a dozen cigarette butts in the street, you better be ready for warmer climes, according to the narrator.

Almost the negative image to his portrayal in Haunted, this book focuses not on Heaven, but on Hell, and what the author thinks it would be like. Complete with nauseating landscapes of the Ocean of Wasted Sperm, the Dandruff Desert, and the Sea of Aborted Fetuses, the narrator paints a vivid and equally revolting picture of what you heathens can expect in the afterlife.

Operating under a character paradigm loosely based on the cult classic The Breakfast Club, we follow a disillusioned preteen and her unlikely cohorts through the hellish landscape and brimstone background. With a new take on the rebel, the jock, the girly girl, and the dork, little miss Madison Spencer, our protagonist, takes on a twisted form of the Ally Sheedy character in this allegorical foray into the underworld. As always, expect people to kick the proverbial bucket in the most twisted of ways, interlaced with a plot that coalesces, creating a story which is truly symphonic literature. Some Palahniuk fiends may think they have it all figured out halfway into the book, but trust this Chuck-junkie, you won’t, not until the last 20 or so pages at least.

As always, expect metaphors and seemingly useless facts to delineate what the author is trying to convey, like demons named Zaebos, Succorbenoth, and Kabol. Get ready for Hitler to get an ass-whooping, Caligula to lose his manhood, and to meet some of our collective favorites, like Sinatra and Cobain, spending eternity in Hades. Also, expect some cunnilingus performed on an ancient, giant demon named Psezpolnica by a severed head. Yes, it gets that twisted, but what else have you come to expect from Chuck Palahniuk? And by the way, all those phone calls from market research companies you get right before you sit down to enjoy your dinner, well, those are done by demons and damned souls. Think about that next time somebody calls and asks you about your chewing gum preference while your Lean Cuisine is getting cold.

Besides the wonderfully repelling locales and characters, it shows in the subtext how we constantly, throughout human history, turn old idols into new demons; and we continue to do it today – just not as flagrantly. Complete with plot twists, perfectly timed flashbacks, and hyperbole-enriched characters like Maddy Spencer’s eco-obsessed, egocentric, billionaire, movie star parents who toss the 13 year old Xanax like Ju-Ju Bees and force her to watch porn; get ready for a bitch slap to the face of us – Americans. Obviously a furtive jab at the over-medicating of our children, and how we shield them from pornography and sex – one of the few things that binds us all as a species, as usual, nothing is safe from the reach of Chuck’s pen, nothing is sacred from the indelible swipe of his sword made of words.

In closing, if you are a Palahniuk fan, get a first edition of this book the day it comes out – it takes the sordid descriptions, ubiquitous hopelessness and the extensive degradation we expect and creates a wonderfully crafted metaphor and gilded allegory for our times. If you’re looking for a leisurely read, grab the book anyway, Palahniuk’s storytelling abilities are unparalleled.

4.5/5 Pitchforks

P.S. I’d like to thank the people at Doubleday for presenting me with an advanced copy of the book 6 weeks before it hit the shelves so that I could complete this review. Thank you.


Tell All by Chuck Palahniuk May 27, 2010

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 7:55 PM
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A Book Review by Alexander ‘Stigz’ Castiglione

Anyone that knows Chuck knows what to expect when they crack the spine of one of his gritty novels.  They know that they are about to get hit with a hyperbole-soaked, loathing-enriched story that’s high in distaste for the human condition and low in moral fiber.  This piece is no different, and its disturbing qualities are only exceeded by its truthfulness, no matter how hard it is to accept.

For the rabid Palahniuk punks, this book is a synthesis of earlier works, like Diary, Survivor, Invisible Monsters, and a few nuances of one of his most offensive pieces (as if everything Chuck writes is not omnisciently offensive and equally unnerving), Snuff. The story is simple: It follows a washed up Hollywood starlet and her personal assistant/savior/guide/maid/confidant.

From a literary standpoint, it is equal with all his other works when it comes to storyline and plot points, however, voracious fans of the nihilistic writer (like myself) will most likely have the whole story figured out by page 70.  However, this book, unlike other pieces by Palahniuk, is unusually short – only weighing in at around 170 pages.  Don’t be mistaken though, it’s dripping with disdain and laced with equally lovable and loathsome characters throughout.

With this particular book, I cannot really say much without giving away the plot, but do yourself a favor and read it!  It’s not a hard read like Pygmy, his previous release, and film buffs will love the name dropping that he subtly ties into the subtext.  He comments on film legends like John Ford and DeMille, but also draws light on the lesser known tragedies of the silver-screen starlets in true Chuck fashion.  Like every other book, you will be full of useless knowledge and disturbing factoids about the world’s most timeless and well known faces and behind-the-scenes geniuses. From Bogart to Hitchcock to Minelli, no name is safe and no star in the sky of Old Hollywood is given refuge.  He bares his literary teeth, and bites the ass of America’s favorite past-time: Sitting back and watching someone else live their ideal life.  Like I said, this is pure Chuck, however brief the novel and nobody is safe.

Like his other work, he continues to find new and interesting narrative devices to separate him from the rest of the post-modern, post-anything writers that live on the shelves of bookstores worldwide.  Just like his journalist in Lullaby using the newspaper ads to tell us something or via the false medical diagnosis in Choke, he writes through the eyes of Hazie, who is writing her screenplay as we read the book.  In this particular piece, he indirectly calls out the cancer of name-dropping and brand name subservience that, more and more in today’s fast paced world, everybody is contracting.  I don’t want to ruin it, but by page six, you will have heard enough about this actor or that director, this face cream or that designer purse.  And he lays it on thick, as always, to really have you thinking outside of the standard framework of modern decadence and look at the absurdity of it all.

Rabid Chuck fans: Go out now and get a first edition!  Newcomers to the poet Palahniuk: read his earlier stuff and then devour this: you will not be disappointed.


Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk June 11, 2009

Filed under: Book Reviews — NVMP @ 4:14 PM
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by Alexander Castiglione aka STIGZ



     Take a bowl. Now throw in some violence, a little sodomy, a dash of drug use, absolute degradation, and a hint of nihilism. Then take a spoon, and mix it together. Now you have any novel by Chuck Palahniuk. His newest satire, Pygmy, is no different.

       In comparison to his other works, the book still screams Chuck, but it has subtle nuances that make it different from his earlier work. This deliciously degrading and delightfully disgusting satire of American society paints a picture of American society from the view of an outsider.

     The outsider: A pygmy from nameless communist/fundamentalist/anti-American nation X, and he takes us on a first person account of the decadence of American culture. During these adventures his goal is to solidify a plot to destroy America, aka Operation Havoc. This should sound vaguely familiar for Fight Club fans.

      Actually though, this piece is vastly different from his early endeavors, like Fight Club or Choke, as it is told in “Pygmy-speak,” a language devoid of prepositions, verb tense, or even articles. This makes it slightly harder to speed through than other prose, as you have to stop and decode what he means, however, it is spectacularly written because he keeps this tone throughout the book. This only furthers his effectiveness in his sarcastic assault on our society, as it makes the reader look at life from outside our own air conditioned, high-def, and made-to-order American comfort zone.

      Lines like “Ancient sentinel rest gray cloud eye upon operative me, roll eye from hair and down this agent, say, ‘Welcome to Wal-Mart.” Say, ‘May I Help you find something?’” make this book hard to read at first, but soon the pages turn, and the satiric sarcasm drips from the pages. Soon you’ll be reading quotes from some of history’s undesirables like Marx, Hitler and Mussolini, rattled off by the narrator. The frightening part: some of the quotes make great insight, and would be widely used if it wasn’t for their monstrous authors. For example “War is to man what maternity is to women,” or “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” Trust me, you’ll be scratching your head saying “Well I guess he wasn’t that crazy.”

      As with every other Palahniuk masterpiece, there are no holds barred and nothing is sacred. Religion is under fire, consumerism and corporate influence on the chopping block, sexuality and pornography are thrown in your face, and the dysfunctional family portrait is painted; all the while making you feel like you’ve been beat to a literary pulp.

      From the Pygmy’s porn addicted brother to the masturbation addicted parents to the pedophilic preacher, not one character in this book is safe, nor is one group of American society. I would call this the best example of “Anti-Americana” we’ve seen since Vonnegut. However, you have to take Kurt, hit him with some steroids, a little acid, and a whole lot of disdain for the “culture of us,” throw in some Pygmy speak, and you have this novel.

      Don’t worry, Chuck fans, this book still gets into the deep seated and horribly accurate truths of life. There’s violence teeming from the every chapter, with made up kung fu moves, like “striking cobra quick kill,” and “flying giant stork death kick,” but also jabs at every institution and practice. He batters the overmedication of society, from Xanax to Ritalin, he harps on prolific drug use of teens, and rips the media a new one. The really scary part? The picture he paints isn’t that far from the truth.

      If you love Chuck, you’ll love this book. A hard read at first, but make no mistake, this book gets as dirty and gritty as everything before, and will no doubt have you second guessing your next trip to a chain store, the next mass you attend or the next prescribed pill you pop.