Try to imagine a world where women lock themselves in their rooms overdosing on endorphins while men are left alone succumbing to isolation.
Chuck Palahniuk did just this in his new book, “Beautiful You.”
“Beautiful You” takes place in, a somewhat present day, New York and the main character is an average woman named Penny Harrigan.
Penny starts off with a lack of desire or direction in her life, working her way quietly around a law firm. She has a normal, listless life until she meets the most influential man in the world.
Does it sound like any other romance novel? A simple girl meets a rich, powerful, man and they fall in love instantly. Well, this is where Palahniuk’s twisted mind comes into play.
C. Linus Maxwell (AKA Climax-well) takes Penny into his life of sensual exhibition. Together they spend 136 days together, except he treats her more like a science experiment than a girlfriend. During their time together, Maxwell tests hundreds of sexual toys and gadgets on Penny in order to research conclusions for a line of products titled “Beautiful You” that he plans on releasing.
Once released, women trap themselves into their rooms and don’t come out except to buy more products or batteries.
Little by little, Penny begins to realize a sinister aspect to Maxwell’s creations. Women he has dated, influential women like the current female President of the United States of America, begin to face unfortunate fates. The later third of the book involves Penny’s efforts to stop Maxwell’s attempt at world domination.
Palahniuk encompasses a Vonnegut-esque style, in that he takes real characters, with real lives, and places them in unreal situations. For anyone who has read his work, they know that he never fails to make the reading cringe worthy and delightfully filthy. That rings true for “Beautiful You.”
There are plenty of descriptive pages outlining the use of the toys, sexual relations between multiple characters and at one point, flaming dildos. But underneath the innuendos and orgasms, Palahniuk touches on some interesting themes.
While reading the book, I noticed was there was a lack of gender specification when it came to the sexual acts taking place. It’s rare to find fiction these days that doesn’t mention the sexuality of the characters when intercourse is taking place. This detail added to the underlying theme of openness about sexuality.
Once Maxwell’s products were released, there was no shame in purchasing them, either for yourself or for others. Women locked themselves away with no questions asked. Within the crippling domination taking place, there was also a seamless transition into a world where passion and personal fulfillment was something everyone could openly reach for.
Consumerism was also addressed subtly throughout the text. Palahnuik never failed to mention what name-brand product Penny was using, or who she was wearing. And the women who purchased Beautiful You products also blindly purchased the products sold from Maxwell’s overlying company DataMicroCom.
This book didn’t lack the sinister unknowing that his other books carry, but somehow seemed to present it all a bit too slowly. At some points the plot seemed redundant, and Penny is lost as a character for a moment. And towards the end, conclusions seem to rush together rather than spreading out overtime.
Nevertheless, it is an entertaining read, definitely not lacking in humor and anticipation. We, as the reader, are as lost as Penny is, until she begins to put pieces together, so it plays out as a sort of sci-fi sex mystery; with a twist ending as chilling as all of Palahniuk’s. If the time is taken to read a bit deeper, underneath the lubricant and pheromones, there are golden pieces of writing and a scary mirroring of our current societies view on commercialism and corporations. Not to mention, an interesting take on womanly sexuality and openness to self-pleasuring.