Chuck Palahniuk – Beautiful You
Satire following the commodification of female pleasure lacks humour and heart of earlier novels
The transgressive fiction author of Fight Club brings us the story of Penny Harrigan, a frumpy law intern seduced by C Linus Maxwell. Penny is wined, dined and pleasured as the guinea pig to test-run Maxwell’s sex toys, a la 50 Shades. As these ‘Beautiful You’ products become a craze, women start to die. In one painfully relevant scene, an actress is forcibly exposed on stage, expiring from ‘pleasure’.
In light of recent events where Hollywood celebs’ personal nude photos of themselves were stolen and released on the internet, Beautiful You is painfully relevant. Palahniuk takes our demand for celebratory gossip and lurid photos a step further by offering us an Oscar winning actress forcibly exposed on stage as she dies from pleasure. Like JG Ballard, Palahniuk gives us what we want but makes us feel sick with it, just as the Beautiful You products make people sick with pleasure.
Palahniuk depicts feminism’s commodification in just one sentence: ‘We’ve got to protect our right to shop’. But any attempt at incisive satire is lost in a ridiculous narrative and playground humour. Palahniuk calls Beautiful You an ‘erotic thriller’ but it’s neither and his descriptions of ‘pleasure’ are gruelling.
While he’s certainly skilled at exposing humanity’s darkness through entertaining and seducing us, he’s so busy pushing boundaries that Beautiful You lacks the punch, humour and, most importantly, the heart of novels such as Invisible Monsters. If you want satire exploring consumerism, sex and spectator society, try Palahniuk’s early novels, Ballard or Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve instead.