Book Review: Readings
The shock of Snuff – about a record-breaking, 600-man sex-a-thon – is that the sexual content isn't that shocking at all
Reviewed by Matthew Patin, Fri., May 30, 2008
Snuffby Chuck Palahniuk
Doubleday, 208 pp., $24.95
Referring to modern desensitization to "processed" porn, Wired.com "Sex Drive" columnist Regina Lynn once wrote, "By now, we've all seen the wall-to-wall, triple-penetration, all-natural, ass-to-mouth MILF scenes." So unless you've lead a Web-free life, reading nothing but Jane Austen and fellow novelists of manners by candlelight, Chuck Palahniuk's Snuff – about a porn priestess attempting a record-breaking, 600-man sex-a-thon in one slutty sitting – won't even make you blush.
Palahniuk's latest work incorporates many of the hallmarks of "transgressional fiction," a genre that the author himself ascribes to most of his work and which includes subjects like sex, violence, and drugs. The violence element was obvious in Palahniuk's Fight Club. The sex element is obvious in Snuff: 600 sweaty, smelly, overly tanned man whores – whom the character Sheila disparagingly refers to as "pud-pullers," "monkey-milkers," and a litany of other sexual kennings – cram a greenroom, waiting for a turn to bang their way into porn star Cassie Wright and world recordom. Some are porn veterans, some newbies, some gangsters. Some take pisses regardless of whether there's a toilet in the immediate vicinity. But all are numbered and buck-naked, feasting like gluttons on salty, greasy snacks from the tray tables and listening for their number. It's a Dionysian tableau of humans at their most base and debaucherous.
Sheila is the creative force behind the production, and Snuff is written from alternating first-person perspectives of her and three "hoagie-honkers": numbers 600 (a washed-up porn star who goes way back with Cassie), 137 (a gay, Viagra-popping former TV actor), and 72 (a bright-eyed youngster who's convinced that Cassie's more than just another porn star). True to Palahniuk's form, the first-person narratives are mostly strings of conversational, incomplete sentences and streams-of-consciousness. Sheila is eventually revealed to be what Palahniuk calls "the hidden gun," the twist that pulls the plot together.
Once you're over the shock that the sexual content of Snuff isn't that shocking at all and once the titles of the porn movies mentioned lose their comedic value (e.g., Catch Her in the Eye), what you find are four characters with deeply troubled pasts – four characters who depressingly remind us that "it's never too late" isn't always true and that sometimes the numbers on our arms are written in indelible ink.
BookPeople will host Chuck Palahniuk at the McCullough Theatre (510 E. 23rd) on Thursday, June 5, for a reading and a Q&A moderated by The Onion A.V. Club's Sean O'Neal. Tickets cost $35 and include a free autographed copy of Snuff. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.bookpeople.com.