Though they’re stylistically dissimilar, I’ve long thought that Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Doomed) was kind of like fellow writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Breakfast Of Champions, Slaughterhouse-Five) in that both had distinctive and unique writing styles that made both of their writings great reading regardless of what they wrote about. But it’s hard not to think that Vonnegut wouldn’t have written a book as explicit and sexually subversive as Palahniuk’s new novel, Beautiful You (Doubleday: hardcover, digital).
When Penny meets the dashing billionaire C. Linus Maxwell, she embarks on a voyage of sexual discovery that most women could only dream about. But when she realizes he’s not on the same journey, and isn’t even enjoying their time together in the same way, she becomes…oh, let’s say concerned. Yeah, “concerned.”
While Chuck Palahniuk has never shied away from sex in his books, Beautiful You is the first novel of his to be a true erotic tale. While it’s not his most graphic book, it is the most graphic when it comes to its sex scenes, though sometimes those scenes get more clinical than sexual.
That said, while Chuck Palahniuk’s Beautiful You is sexual, it’s not entirely about sex; it’s more erotic adjacent. It just sometimes seems like it. But don’t let all the fucking fool you. While it sometimes seems like this book is going to be all about Penny and Max going at it, there’s actually more to it, not to mention all the sly social satire that Palahniuk peppers into all of his novels.
In a weird way, I actually see a parallel between what Chuck Palahniuk writes, especially in Beautiful You, and what they do on South Park. In South Park, someone will often say something that’s wrong but also funny and outlandish…only to have it actually be shown as being true later in the episode. And Chuck Palahniuk kind of does that in Beautiful You, suggesting that something outrageous is actually happening, and then giving it consequences in the world he’s created.
That Beautiful You can, at times, be as gross as South Park is just coincidence. Or providence.
Then, as I mentioned earlier, there’s Chuck Palahniuk’s writing style, which isn’t as strong in Beautiful You as it has been in other books, but is still front and center. Especially when you get to the sex, which he describes in such a lurid but slightly clinical way that it could only come from the same guy who wrote Choke, Diary, and Haunted.
So, how does Beautiful You compared to the oeuvre of Chuck Palahniuk? Though not his finest work, it’s not his weakest, either. But then, the gradation between his best and worst work is so slight that it’s practically negligible. Which is why, if you enjoyed any of his other books — and you’re not bothered by graphic sex — you’ll enjoy Beautiful You as much as you have his earlier books. And so it goes.