Getting inside Chuck Palahniuk’s sleazy masterpiece
The last thing to come to mind when you think of adult films is barbecue potato chips.
But that’s exactly what Chuck Palahniuk uses to set the scene of his latest societal therapy session, “Snuff.”
Adult movie superstar Cassie Wright sets out to break a world record and retire on top by starring with 600 men of all races and sizes for her final film.
Erotica connoisseurs will recognize the influence of the real-life Annabel Chong, who made history in 1995 with 70 men – originally planned to be 300 – and put it to tape.
Palahniuk, the hotwired brain behind “Fight Club” and “Choke,” continues the recent trend seen in 2005’s “Haunted” and 2007’s “Rant” of using multiple perspectives to tell the story. The technique has never been more appropriate, as the plot of “Snuff” is too intricately wound to be told from one voice.
The book reads like a blog from three of the featured players – referred to as Mr. 72, Mr. 137 and Mr. 600 – as well as Cassie’s “guy wrangler” and assistant, Sheila.
The plot, of course, starts to thicken like bacon grease.
These dudes aren’t just faceless numbers, waiting in line to get their names in the history books. Each brings a sense of yearning to the story. The young, naive Mr. 72 carries a bouquet of roses for his queen to soften the blow of some hard news he has to deliver. Mr. 600 is smut celeb Branch Bacardi, Cassie’s male equivalent and the man who dragged her into the business in the first place. And Mr. 137 is a star outside the world of adult films as well, but he’s here trying to prove his heterosexuality after hard financial times forced him to star in gay-themed movies.
Secrets slowly reveal themselves, and before long, the characters are drawn into one another’s stories – not by choice.
As one might guess by now, the book isn’t so much event-based as character-oriented. Actual sex acts in “Snuff” are few, so the more literate horndogs are advised to look elsewhere for printed pleasures.
Essential to the book are Palahniuk’s trademark trivia nuggets, knowledge of which only the most dedicated pop-culture dweeb or closet history buff would pursue.
Among other things, “Snuff” claims Adolf Hitler invented the blow-up doll for lonely troops who might be tempted to mingle with members of a less-than-pure ethnicity. Unfortunately for the fuehrer, the distribution factory was bombed before the dolls could get out to the market. Palahniuk follows this and other tidbits with the refrain, “True fact.”
The “facts” aren’t there purely for chuckles. Among them are details of how multiple silver screen legends died, supplementing Cassie’s underlying fear that this film will kill her. The very title of this book refers to a type of movie where an actual murder is depicted – after all, partnering with 600 men can’t be what the doctor ordered.
As with most Palahniuk literature, it sounds like it could be true, but validity is completely beside the point. This is a writer who revels in the little details (his description of the one bathroom shared by 600 sweaty guys is one for the time capsule.)
Sometimes Palahniuk goes a little heavy on the head sauce, laying on more “facts” it seems simply for the sake of spittin’ mad knowledge. The fake blue movie titles keep coming, too, and while they’re appropriately funny, the puns on famous movies like “The Italian Job” and “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” start to wear our their welcome.
Apparent from the first couple pages, the vocabulary in “Snuff” also seems strikingly dumbed down compared to earlier Palahniuk works such as the dense “Lullaby.” You get used to it, and this could just be for the sake of replicating reality – let’s face it, porn stars aren’t the smartest people in the world.
There’s a method to the madness, from the unrelenting dime store trivia to the love-child back story and the final, unbelievable climax. After all is said and done, the story really just probes our most basic motivations and what we do for fame.
In that respect, “Snuff” is an instant classic of satire and smut that even holy-roller parents will have to respect as legit. Further cementing Palahniuk’s place at the head of the post-Vonnegut world of fiction, it’s also probably the only work of adult fiction that makes the reader want to call their mother after finishing to say “I love you.”