Chuck Palahniuk’s twisted fiction has always been unabashedly dirty. Even his cult classic “Fight Club” had its share of raunch, though admittedly as more of a sidebar than a main plot point. His newest novel, “Beautiful You,” takes sex from a clinical Paris boudoir to a sensual mountaintop crag and is certainly not something you want to be reading in front of your parents or your boss.

Beautiful You

Chuck Palahnuik
Doubleday
October 21st, 2014


The book starts out with the rape of the main character, shocking readers into a world where females are in the background and all the male witnesses simply stand and stare. After this small taste, Palahniuk immediately pulls readers back in time to the safety of a modern day corporate America where women have finally achieved equality with men. At this time Palahniuk properly introduces heroine Penny Harrigan, an exceedingly ordinary young woman from Nebraska with very large, vague dreams.

“Never in human history had there been a better time to be a woman. Penny knew that.”

Yet, Penny feels in this era of powerful women, where a woman serves as the U.S. president, simply becoming a female lawyer is a “second-hand dream.” She wants something bigger, and better, but unable to figure out what, she works at a law firm and attempts for the fourth time to pass the bar. In a rush, Penny finds herself face down, white cotton panties exposed, and covered in coffee, staring at the shoes of the richest man in the world. Cornelius Linus Maxwell — dubbed “Climax-Well” by the tabloids due to his pursuit and subsequent disposal of beautiful and powerful women — asks Penny out.

As her boyfriend, Maxwell exposes Penny to decadent food, high fashion couture and, perhaps most importantly, fantastic orgasms. One of Maxwell’s ex-girlfriends warns Penny not to have sex with him, but she can’t resist and is coaxed into his carnal, and surprisingly clinical world.

“‘Why should sex be any different,’ ranted Max. ‘Everything — films, music, painting — is calculated to manipulate and excite us. Drugs are designed to be as effective as possible. Why shouldn’t we devote the same attention to the details of sex?’”

Using Penny as a quite willing human guinea pig, Maxwell develops and tests his forthcoming line of sex toys specifically for women. Called “Beautiful You,” the line’s catch phrase claims, “A billion husbands are about to be replaced.” Unfortunately, Maxwell and his erotic toys could mean the end of freethinking females world-wide, which only Penny has the power to stop.

Palahniuk’s artful prose pulls readers into this terrifying and tantric world where you can’t stop reading or furiously blushing. Always an eccentric, he has created a tale that has never been told, pushing the boundaries between fiction and erotica. In some of his other novels, Palahniuk has taken readers into surreal situations while always maintaining a somewhat precarious grip on reality. His novels “Lullaby” and “Diary” both contain fantastic elements but manage to create characters that are believable. In “Beautiful You,” Palahniuk similarly shows Penny and Maxwell as partaking in unnatural scenarios while remaining grounded in the real world. Certain names and brands clue readers into the fact that this is reality, albeit somewhat distorted.

Each year, women are leveling the playing field socially and economically. With recent campaigns for women’s rights including the prominent #YesAllWomen, equality between the sexes is more in focus than ever before. In fact, the idea of a woman as president of the United States may not be that far off. Palahniuk uses his female characters to magnify the struggle for women’s rights in a fictional post-feminist society. He attempts to show what could happen once women really do have it all and how easily it could be undone. In its own twisted way, “Beautiful You” creates a commentary on feminism where the intersection of sexual liberation and dangerous overstimulation is dissected and questioned.

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