I like Chuck Palahniuk. His books have helped rejuvenate a stultified youth audience with flashy, original ideas.
But his newest book, Snuff, is pretty bad, despite a great premise: Cassie Wright, a veteran porn star, attempts to set a new gangbang world record. Six hundred men. One day. Already there is huge potential for humor and depth. Too bad Palahniuk does everything he can to prevent it.
For starters: only 600? Given the wide parameters of pornography, it seems a low figure. Palahniuk is a diligent researcher, but I would be shocked if this hasn’t been done. In a reveal that seems even less likely, we learn that the gangbang will probably kill Cassie. Granted, it would be disgusting to have sex with 600 men, but fatal? It’s clear that Palahniuk just thought the idea of a woman getting screwed to death was awesome, and never looked back.
That’s the least of the novel’s problems, though. Snuff shifts between four points of view: Mr. 72, Mr. 137, Mr. 600 and Sheila, Cassie’s assistant. Considering they are all participating in this historic event for unique reasons, each has mountains of potential. But again, it’s like Palahniuk is trying to be banal, doing no work to differentiate among their voices. They are flatter than old beer by page 60. Aside from curt catchphrases — for example, number 72 says, “I don’t know”; Sheila says “True fact” — there is no deviation in tone.
Palahniuk also undercuts himself in setting: ninety percent of the book is spent in a waiting room. You’re going to write a book about an enormous gangbang and give us no action? Being in the waiting room is as boring for the reader as it is for the characters. It doesn’t help that each emerging twist is heavy-handed. To Palahniuk’s credit, the novel’s final twists are unpredictable, but they are also farfetched to the point of absurdity.
Snuff does have its moments. But overall, it’s like a porno in which the delivery boy just hands over the pizza, gets paid and leaves. When promising so much, it’s just bad form to deliver so little.