His latest novel, “Beautiful You,” does just that with arousal addiction, and more broadly, manufactured experience versus actual experience. It’s bizarre and gripping and grotesquely absurd, but in the best ways possible.
It also nails squarely on the head the problems with advertising and overindulgence in most first-world countries. In its over-sexed, science-fiction way, “Beautiful You” insists that people rarely participate in real-life experiences. Palahniuk delivers the statement clearly: Experiences are now based on objects and what marketing reps tell people they need.
The writing is by far the best part of the book, but that’s hardly a surprise. Palahniuk’s command of narrative voice is so strong that it almost feels like cheating to even mention it in a review. From the first page, Palahniuk enthralls readers with his considerable writing skills and keeps them bewitched through the last page — longer if the reader happens to be the type to analyze literature. There’s no shortage of passages and themes to dissect in its 222 pages.
The one caveat is on page 154, where the gears shift hard enough to be compared to a first-time driver in a manual, but the rhythm finds itself again within a few pages.
However, Penny and Maxwell, the two principal characters in “Beautiful You”, are extraordinary in their detail.
Maxwell in particular is a character so complex that it’s hard to imagine him as fictional. He’s layered in the same ways a living person is; his motives cannot be easily mapped out with a formula in the same way it could be for most characters.
Penny does not make the same leap into personhood that Maxwell does, but that’s not to say she’s one-dimensional, either. She’s still lively, full of talents, flaws, emotions and ideals, but she’s simplistic. It’s easier to understand her motivations and predict how she’ll handle situations.
The story would be pretty basic — girl meets boy, boy whisks girl away for a four-and-a-half-month experimental sex bonanza, boy attempts to take over the world through sex toys, girl tries to stop him — were it not for the seemingly unending supply of invented sex toys and scientific gadgetry.
“Beautiful You” is available today in hardcover, e-book and audiobook.
Jyllian Roach is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Jyllian_R.
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