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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.


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.