This only the second of Chuck Palahniuk’s books I’ve read, and I was lent it by one of his greatest fans with the description “I just got it, I have no idea what it’s about.” Even the dust jacket had been taken off.
The book opens with the main character, Penny, being raped in a courtroom, and flashes back to when Penny met and started dating C. Linus Maxwell, the world’s richest man and most desirable bachelor. Maxwell has the nickname of “Climax-well,” and is known for having dated a luscious movie star, an English princess, and the President of the United States. Known as the “Nerd Cinderella,” Penny is shaken to her Nebraska-roots as she’s swept into Maxwell’s champagne-drenched life in his Paris boudoir.
But this isn’t a love story, it’s a story about sex toys, and about sexual pleasure, specifically female sexual pleasure. While some of the scenes might get you off, there’s nothing really romantic about the relationship between Penny and Maxwell. He is as sexy as a toaster, and maybe that’s the point. All Maxwell cares about is developing his line of “personal care devices” known under the umbrella brand name of “Beautiful You.”
What I liked about this novel is Palahniuk’s strong descriptions and his creativity. I can see why other people might love his willingness to cross any line, no matter how taboo, but I’m not into skeksis or yoda slash/fanfic, and the idea of using the severed finger of someone you care about as a … I can’t even finish writing that sentence. The descriptive word that kept coming to mind was “gonzo.” This novel goes over the top.
I can also see that people might like some of the erotic nature of the descriptions, but I’m not really into that. I really like character-driven novels. Maxwell is interesting, in that he’s bizarre, and his teacher was interesting, in that she was bizarre, but the other characters felt wooden to me.
Penny described herself as having a secret love of “power” but I didn’t see that, or any other trait, played into. She does things, but I don’t feel like I understand why she does things, and I never got a good sense of who she was, especially after she claimed she didn’t care about the trappings of wealth but went to extraordinary lengths to describe what she was wearing and what she owned. She’s described as pretty, but nothing special, to not pretty, to ordinary, to very pretty, to thin (and therefore gorgeous) to sexy, to amazing, but I don’t know if she’s short or tall, fair or dark, long nose or thin lips or what-have-you, though I assumed she was white. It’s possible that was deliberate, that Palahniuk meant for her to represent the everywoman, but it just left me even more unmoored from her as a character.
I recommend this for people who already know and like Palahniuk’s novels, and for readers who want something shocking and bizarre. It’s unusual, but not my cup of tea.