“Beautiful You” seems to be packed with quite a few themes and ideas. But for you, what is the book about?
“Superficially, it’s about a female protagonist, but really the book is about — number 1 — arousal addiction, which has become a social problem. People being addicted to greater and greater levels of constantly-changing stimulation and how it’s become a distraction from doing anything else in their lives.
On another level, it’s about how our lives are becoming about consuming commodified experiences instead of having experiences of our own. That we have false forms of intimacy and false forms of adventure, and at the end of our lives we realize that all we’ve done is just to consume experience rather than have any of our own. And that frightens me. That’s the darkness behind ‘Beautiful You.’”
I noticed that throughout the book there are a lot of brand names mentioned as well.
“Much of the book was also written to exploit the tropes of recent popular books that really appeal to women. The working title of this book was originally ‘50 Shades of the Twilight Cave Bear Wears Prada,’ because it included tropes from ‘50 Shades of Gray,’ ‘Twilight,’ ‘Clan of the Cave Bear,’ ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ and so that’s why so many of the fashion things come in as brand names.”
What do you hope fans walk away with after reading “Beautiful You”?
“I just hope that they laugh. I think it’s a really funny, dark, upsetting book.”
Which genre would you say “Beautiful You” falls into?
“It’s a sex farce. We haven’t had a sex farce book in at least a generation, maybe two generations. It used to be you got books like Carrie Southern’s ‘Candy,’ but that was back in the ‘60s when people thought that free love was going to be a good thing. Then, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, herpes and AIDS occurred and so the sex farce as a book (genre) just disappeared. So I wanted to write a new kind of sex farce for a new generation.”
You’ve said in interviews before that you tend to strongly dislike your own characters. Is that the case with the principal characters, Penny and Maxwell, in “Beautiful You”?
“You know, I kind of like them both in their damaged way. Maxwell is so close to me; constantly taking notes and watching the world and trying to figure out and put things together. And Penny is me constantly misinterpreting social cues and getting things wrong.”
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Maxwell seems extremely complicated; there’s a lot going on with him.
“Wait until you see the sequel. It just gets deeper and deeper.”
There’s going to be a sequel?
“(My publisher) Random House doesn’t know yet, but I’m writing it.”
What was the inspiration for “Beautiful You”?
“That is such a tough one. I’m still not entirely sure. My dog died and I was fantastically despondent. I mean, I was completely, suicidally despondent. And then this crazy idea came and I think I’d written the entire book in less than two months. So maybe the idea came from the complete sadness of my dog dying. Or maybe the idea came from seeing Trojan (Condoms) advertising its Trojan Twister on television. I’d never seen sex toys advertised on television in this kind of euphemistic, coded way.
And I was also thinking about the difference between the kind of pornography my father read — it was really graphic — and the kind that my mother read, which was romantic and very, again, coded and filled with euphemisms. So it was just as sexual, but the sexuality was hidden behind all these soft-focus words. My goal was to try to write my father’s intense pornography, but to write it using my mother’s language. It was another challenge, trying to put those two together.”
In the scenes where Maxwell is explaining what the different tools do, how much of that is biologically accurate?
“A lot of it — the anatomy — is true. I only made up a couple of glands — I named one after my agent and one after my editor. But otherwise the anatomy is accurate. The effect of the tools on the anatomy is artistic license, and it’s funny because the married stones — the ones that stick together inside you, drive you crazy — apparently there’s a big scandal right now with sculpting magnets that are about the size of BBs. Kids have been eating these magnets and it glues their intestines together as these magnetic BBs find one another, and it binds these children’s bowels. They have to go in for radical, severe surgery to remove them. That’s not where I got the idea, but people have pointed out the similarity.”
Meet Chuck Palahniuk on Monday at 7 p.m. in the SUB during his live event, which will include games, a Q&A and readings of some unpublished works. Tickets are $25.95 at bkwrks.com/chuck-single; add a second ticket for $5. All ticket purchases come with a signed copy of “Beautiful You.”
or on Twitter @Jyllian_R.