Snuff dark, with underlying desire

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This provocative novel recounts the conversations in a waiting room during the making of a pornographic film involving 600 men and one woman.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/06/2008 (5193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

This provocative novel recounts the conversations in a waiting room during the making of a pornographic film involving 600 men and one woman.

Although many will find the premise off-putting, Snuff is less raunchy than it might seem, but not by much.

Its author, American Chuck Palahniuk, is best known as the author of 1996’s Fight Club, which begat the 1999 cult movie of the same name.

An adaptation of his fourth novel, Choke, will appear in August. Snuff is his ninth novel and will not likely endear Palahniuk to a new audience. It seems to be one for the fans.

Palahniuk writes from four perspectives, continuing in the style of his previous novels Haunted and Rant. The story begins with Mr. 600, Branch Bacardi, a veteran in the adult-entertainment business and friend of the star Cassie Wright, who is shooting her last film.

He wants to help her make history by setting a world record. In a room filled with candy bars, condoms and oily dudes in boxer shorts, Mr. 600 remarks, “Didn’t one of us on purpose set out to make a snuff movie.”

The narrative also follows a young rose-carrying Mr. 72, a middle-aged Mr. 137, who brings a stuffed autograph hound to be signed, and Sheila, assistant to Wright and the dude wrangler.

Sheila is the most enlightened of the characters, providing her own brand of sex-positive feminism and also telling readers about the real-life porn star Annabel Chong who inspired the novel.

The narrative is sequential. But since multiple perspectives are involved, it is often amusingly contradictory, with each of the characters having vastly different impressions of one another.

Palahniuk writes snappy dialogue and makes judicious use of life-status details. Mr. 600 has “crumpled folds of purple skin” under his eyes. The cuff links of Mr. 137 are piteously described as “nothing better than nine-karat.”

In the third chapter, we learn that Cassie Wright had a baby early in her career, who was put up for adoption. The Oedipal tension borders on being textbook.

Snuff fits well within Palahniuk’s oeuvre, dealing with shame, guilt, revenge, wasted lives and an emphasis on the “real” or “true.”

Those familiar with Palahniuk’s novels will come across variations on previous themes. The aphoristic “copy of a copy of a copy” from Fight Club and Invisible Monsters becomes “reflections of her reflections of her reflections” until they “disappear into infinity.”

The phrase “all-singing, all-dancing” reappears, as does the motif of losing everything: “Porn … is a job you only take after you abandon all hope.”

Palahniuk’s prose reads more like the spoken rather than the written word. Phrases such as “You want the teddy bear should go in your bag?” and “I go how the kid can tell her his feelings” pepper the text.

At times this is awkward: “Pointing at actor 72, where he stands in a pool of white rose petals across the room, Bacardi says, ‘Dude there?’ Bacardi says, ‘Little dude’s a total boner-kill.”

As with most of Palahniuk’s novels, Snuff has a dark satirical edge, yet there is an underlying desire for mutual affection. This is why Palahniuk’s characters are recognizable in their struggles with heartbreak, failure and loneliness.

Snuff does not depart from this formula: It is an exaggerated and corny poke at the imagined lives of men waiting in line to have sex.

Kenneth MacKendrick teaches in the religion department of the University of Manitoba and is writing a book about Chuck Palahniuk.

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