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‘A billion husbands are about to be replaced.’
Should you be worried? Not unless you are Palahniuk’s working staff.
Making five dollars an hour and unable to pay his bills, Chuck Palahniuk had to say goodbye to learning journalism and greet workers daily at an assembly line that gave 17 dollars an hour. What it also gave him was a lot of time to think, following which he was able to take a few writers’ courses in Portland. And while ‘Fight Club’ worked wonders for me, as did ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Choke’, there were a few other ineffective works that followed. ‘Beautiful You’ may be the biggest one of them all.
The novel follows the hapless life of Penelope Anne Harrigan, a young, lowly associate in a New York law firm who finds herself dating none other than C. Linus Maxwell, a software billionaire known for his short-lived but sizzling romances with celebrated women, like French actress Alouette D’Ambrosia and the 47th President of the United States, Clarissa Hind. His nickname: Climax-well.
Dating may be a loose term really, for the real reason for this tycoon to be interested in her is not so sweet but simple: Penny is a pig for the line-up of high-tech women’s sex toys that he is planning to manufacture. Called ‘Beautiful You’, they come emboldened and packaged in pink, giving users the much needed relief and readers an equal amount of disgust. Given the right sexual satisfaction, women could flower, lose weight, and kick drugs. Now, every women’s satisfaction was only weeks away. Young or old. Fat or short. Billions of women would learn to love the bodies in which they were alive. As the novel summarises it in one brilliant sentence, it’s ‘a history lesson about the world contained inside you.’
Fairly speaking, the novel doesn’t even fall in the category of gonzo erotica in the way Hunter S. Thompson used it. Or as the author claims it does. Be as that may, this time around, instead of facets of sex strewn around the storyline (like in most of his novels), the novel takes sex, gives it a window seat on the train back home and manages to tweak it to outrageous levels. Palahniuk manages to reduce women to the sum of their vaginas. And while he manages to almost put a middle finger to the ‘mommy porn’ of late in literature at the same time, readers all around the world- most of them his dear fans who’ve stood by him during and after ‘Choke’ and ‘Guts’ – have not taken well to this new work of his.
The author says, ‘I started using the rules of minimalism for my first books, but Beautiful You breaks the laws of minimalism intentionally. It owes so much to the chick lit of the last ten years, for my last title for it was ‘Fifty Shades of the Twilight Cave Bear Wears Prada’.
The fact that he breaks them is evident from the first chapter itself. The absence of his trademark style of short and crisp sentences is dearly felt. Moreover, he plays the creepy card again – showing us his oedipal side – giving the main character a motherly obsession to fuss over and us readers the chance to let out an exasperated sigh. Too much of something is bad and I wonder whether he’s done the same thing with carnal humor here.
And don’t go looking for any soft-porn pleasures here. I don’t know anyone who will get turned on from reading that ‘Her mind reeled with the effort to picture Tad’s inferior rectal nerve and his tunica vaginalis’. And there are many other such examples. Using such clinical terminology may have worked in ‘Fight Club’ not to mention ‘Choke’, but here it just becomes a big dud. One big dud. Which is what this novel sadly is.
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