Title: Beautiful You
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
No. of Pages: 240
Origins: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Release Date: 21 October 2014
Bottom Line: Typical Chuck – uncomfortably hilarious and a spot-on assessment of today’s self-help market, marketing, feminism vs. misogyny, fame, media, and so much more
“Penny Harrigan is a low-level associate in a big Manhattan law firm with an apartment in Queens and no love life at all. So it comes as a great shock when she finds herself invited to dinner by one C. Linus Maxwell, a software mega-billionaire and lover of the most gorgeous and accomplished women on earth. After dining at Manhattan’s most exclusive restaurant, he whisks Penny off to a hotel suite in Paris, where he proceeds, notebook in hand, to bring her to previously undreamed-of heights of gratification for days on end. What’s not to like? This: Penny discovers that she is a test subject for the final development of a line of feminine products to be marketed in a nationwide chain of boutiques called Beautiful You. So potent and effective are these devices that women by the millions line up outside the stores on opening day and then lock themselves in their room with them and stop coming out. Except for batteries. Maxwell’s plan for battery-powered world domination must be stopped. But how?”
Thoughts: Chuck Palahniuk has an eye for finding the ridiculous among the commonly accepted practices that drive our society. He does so with humor and sarcasm and a healthy dose of derision. Reading one of his novels is an exercise in laughable discomfort; readers do not want to laugh too much because his subject matter is usually an extreme version of something that is typically taboo, or at least not discussed in polite society. With Beautiful You, Mr. Palahniuk turns his wicked eye on multiple issues, including the media, science, the self-help industry, the idea of fame, and others.
Mr. Palahniuk’s novels are always well-written, and Beautiful You is no exception. His turns of phrases are extremely effective in establishing mood, motive, and setting. Each sentence appears innocuous but is in actuality filled with sarcasm and mockery. In addition, his characters are delightfully earnest even as the situations they face are the echelon of exaggeration. Penny in particular is admirable in her desire to change the face of feminism but soon becomes farcical as she succumbs to the lures of wealth and luxury. In using such passive-aggressive techniques, he forces the reader to read between the lines and think about what he is actually saying.
Then there is the subject matter of the novel. Beautiful You is explicit, more scientific than sensual, and rather terrifying in its clinical coldness. It is meant to shock, and it does just that. More importantly, readers must recognize the joke of it all in order to not only understand the message but also to ease the discomfort. For Beautiful You is very uncomfortable to read at times. It is not just the extremely graphic scenes of arousal and gratification, it is the utter remoteness with which Maxwell goes about his world domination. It is the truth behind his darling media image and behind all of the Cinderella stories that surround his friends. It is the ease with which he can capture an entire gender and manipulate their buying habits. It is in the fact that no one does anything about it.
At its heart, Beautiful You is a biting satire of the distortion the media provides to any situation these days. It positively slays the scientific approach to product development and increasing use of technology in consumer products. In addition, Mr. Palahniuk turns the idea of feminism on its head for those who still consider feminism to be nothing more than bridging the gender gap in a given profession. At the same time, he calls into question the misogynistic ideas behind marketing and society in general. Rounding out the story is his twist on the idea of self-help and the entirely new meaning he brings to the phrase. The basic story is a very simple concept, but Mr. Palahniuk adds his brand of complexity through his typical syntactical games and stellar use of sarcasm to create an unforgettable novel that will make people think twice before breaking out the bedroom toys.