Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Snuff: Chuck Palahniuk, January 11—15, 2016
My rating: ♦♦♦◊◊
Snuff tells the story of porn star Cassie Wright, whose professional swansong is to sleep with six hundred men on camera in a single day. The story is told from the perspective of three prospective participants and Wright’s PA, all in the green room making the dream come true.
There’s no question that Snuff is extreme, but it doesn’t glorify porn. All four narrative voices echo the same sentiments; it’s sleazy, it’s shallow, it’s fake and it’s damaging. Yet, it has its uses and each character has their reasons for being there.
Mr. 72 has reason to believe that he is Wright’s widely-publicised love child. Mr. 137 is a former TV star hoping to come back from a sex scandal; and Mr. 600 is a a veteran porn actor who shares a dark history with Cassie Wright. Sheila, the PA, is as cynical and detached as the rest.
With the exception of Mr. 600, all of the characters found themselves with no option but to be in that room, through circumstances almost entirely beyond their control. With the exception of Mr. 600, Palahniuk believably invites sympathy for each of the main players, plus Cassie who is largely absent but oft referred to. With the exception of Mr. 600, the reader will root for each character’s desired outcome, even as it contradicts with others’. With the exception of Mr. 600. Mr. 600 is a total rotter.
Yes, Snuff is explicit. It’s graphic; it embraces taboos that rarely see the light of day in mainstream fiction and it’s that utter depravity that makes it completely un-titillating. Nobody could mistake this for erotic fiction. It’s so over-the-top that, from start to finish, there is a feeling of discomfort and disgust that will not go away. Palahniuk is not kind to the porn industry.
His writing style has its flaws. Every character’s voice sounds the same, and since the majority of them are only identified by numbers, that can make it confusing. The never-ending list of synonyms for those who pleasure themselves becomes tiresome. But at other times, he is quite brilliant. An absolute trove of research has gone into this book, and the number of factoids makes it very interesting. It’s clear how much work has gone into even this short piece.
It’s also darkly funny in places. Whether it’s Wright’s research into the Titanic in preparation for her adult movie set aboard the ship, or the climax (sorry) which is both amusing and grotesque, Palahniuk isn’t afraid to ridicule Western culture.
Most of the plot twists are signposted with the same garish lighting as the films he describes. None of the shocks are particularly shocking. But it’s not really about that; it’s about human nature and the ambiguous morality of doing what you want, doing what you have to, and how to make peace with that.