Beautiful you, by Chuck Palahniuk

Beautiful you Book Cover Beautiful you
Chuck Palahniuk
Contemporary, humor
October 21st 2014

In a world where sex addiction is an acknowledged disease and Fifty Shades of Grey is the best-selling book of the century by far, the outrageous premise of Beautiful You doesn't seem all that outrageous anymore.


I was fourteen years old back when Fight Club showed up on screen and no one ever talked about anything else.  I think it was only a couple of years later I started picking up Palahniuk novels, of course because "Oh, that's the guy who wrote the thing that became the thing".   I'm sure there are many like me.   Palahniuk's books definitely scrathed an itch. It's tempting to label it "angry young person"-syndrome, but I'm trying not to.

(There's nothing wrong with being an angry young person, of course. It just looks so exhausting when you're a crusty old person.)

This is relevant because it means this is written from the view point of that crusty old person who used to have other feelings than current ones about the work of a specific author. You see?  I can't talk about this without also talking to my teen self.  Actually, okay, let's turnt his review into a letter to my eighteen year old self.

Hello, me. I assume you are currently reading either Dostoevsky or Nine Inch Nails lyrics.  Or you're being all flush-facedly whisky drunk. Or maybe this is when you were reading Diary, or Lullaby.  You liked those a lot.  I remember you copying whole paragraphs and styling the stuff you wrote in your personal diary to mimic this guy. Palahniuk.  Yeah. Hey, speaking of.

He's got a new book out this month, which is, well, a little over ten years into your future. Let me congratulate you on having become someone who occasionally gets to read a book before its set publishing date. Yes, you're ecstatic about it.  I could tell you about a thing called a "Kindle" that would make you froth at the mouth, but it might actually be fatal to your health, so, moving along...

This novel is called "Beautiful you".  The tagline goes "A billion husbands are about to be replaced."   It's got sex toys and character-less characters and a lot of graphic descriptions you might have liked, past self, because to you it was sufficient for a thing to be sneered at by others, or considered somehow "vile", for it to be interesting.  And you would not read this book with an uncomfortable question-worm in the back of your head, asking... well, asking a whole lot of things. Let's sum it up in three:  "Wait, what?",    "Is it okay to be a little uncomfortable with this?",  and  "Am I just awfully humorless and stupid and missing the point and I'm supposed to be reacting in certain ways and everything is really just fine?"    Oh, okay, and a fourth:  "Is the story even any good underneath the layers of  bodily fluids?"  ....Okay, a fifth:  "Eh, a suggestion that this is the same as Fight Club? What? What does it even matter?" ...

Right, right.  You don't get it.  And you're going to dismiss it if I tell you about your own internalized misogyny and all that stuff.  I actually think even you would be a bit bored by this book, because there isn't really any bite.  There are none of those steely insights I remember you finding in the other books.  I don't think you would be satisfied with "Oh, I see, what if females found sexual euphoria more easily, and they turned out to be even less disciplined about it than men, oh haha, and blah blah consumerism consumerism". 

I read the book in pretty much a single sitting, though, because it is quick, and Palahniuk's style of writing always did, at least, hold your attention. That hasn't changed, and it keeps me somewhat hopeful about things he might write in the future.  But it's hard for me to say "This novel was less good than a previous novel",  because I honestly have no idea if it is, or if it's just not the same reader anymore.

Am I going to tell other people they should read Beautiful You?

No, probably not. I mean, if they want to read a humor novel, I think there are better ones.   Maybe if they specify "I want to read a thing where a Prada-wearing woman leaves New York and goes to live in a remote cave in the Himalayas and  this is no trouble to her at all. I want to just read a thing that looks real-world but then it's actually real-world with cheat codes."   I've played games with cheat codes; while it's fun to go through walls and be immortal and stuff, it also tends to ensure my complete apathy about avoiding a fall/hit/punch/death.  Or achieving the shiniest of epics.  You know.

PS, younger self.  You don't want to post this stupid "review", because you're still scared of being the one who just doesn't "get it".  But you know what? The one lesson we're going to take away from all those hungover mornings with The Golden Girls on the TV? It's totally okay to not get it.  

The female man, by Joanna Russ

The female man Book Cover The female man
Joanna Russ
Science fiction
First published 1975

This was a difficult book to read - and a difficult book to talk about.   Let's pretend you've read it, too; that way, you'll know exactly what I mean when I say "The good parts were really good", and "But all the stuff inbetween? Um, I just don't know".

Yes, it's that kind of book.

I think most contemporary readers considering this book will already have some knowledge of it - something along the lines of "Feminist staple of the genre" or "Probably outdated by now" or similar.  I actually think the most relevant thing to know about this book before choosing it is "It's from the 70s and is something like 80% stream-of-consciousness and almost as exhausting as Rudy Rucker".

The good part, the good story and the good theme here, would have benefited from a clearer, less obfuscated voice.  At least the way I read it. To me, the valuable part of this book was the satirical little passages describing social interactions, ridiculing norms, questioning gender behaviours that are still similarly questioned 40 years after this text was first published.  Some of them had me laughing loudly, some made me angry, some were eerily similar, almost word for word, to certain observations I - and probably almost the entirety of my gender/class/location demographic - have made since childhood.

To tie those things together, the book throws in a parallel dimensions setup,  showing us a get-together of four different iterations of the same person, one of whom is Joanna, the author.  One of them comes from a place where there are no men, and women live quite happily.  (And adding some more controversy to the book, of course;  same-sex relationships.)

And... that's about as much as I can tell you. I mean, I couldn't really say more about the book even if I tried.  The narration shifts between characters with little to mark who's speaking, theres a lot of text that, to me - and to what kind of book I wanted to be reading - came across as, well, babble.   It's unfortunate.   I'm sure this all looks quite different if the book is read for a literature class, viewed through a certain kind of contextual lens - but to me,  a leisure-reader with a certain interest in representation and markedly less interest in any kind of storytelling in which the story is not the star of the show - the conclusion is just a petering-out yeah, well...

Reasons the book is worth reading anyway:  The good parts, as stated, are good.  It's a relevant genre history lesson, too. It's going to live on in memorable quotes for a long time yet.

But read it out of special interest. If you're mainly looking for a readable, coherent science fiction novel about dimension travel and parallel universes, you should read something else.

Waiting on: The doubt factory

Paolo Bacigalupi is a name I’ll never dare to try to pronounce out loud, but it’s okay, because most people will understand what I’m gushing about if I keep referring to the one who wrote The Windup Girl.    I loved The Windup Girl; it filled my head with a moist and filthy future populated by machine intelligence and elephants.   Then the same author provided me with Ship Breaker, which was, among other things, an excellent audiobook for an audiobook novice.   I wasn’t that surprised when I found I even liked his short stories collected in Pump six and other stories, despite my usual lack of enthusiasm when it comes to short stories.

When The Doubt Factory is out the 14th of October, I’m all over it.

In this page-turning contemporary thriller, National Book Award Finalist and New York Times bestselling author Paolo Bacigalupi explores the timely issue of how public information is distorted for monetary gain, and how those who exploit it must be stopped.

Everything Alix knows about her life is a lie. At least that’s what a mysterious young man who’s stalking her keeps saying. But then she begins investigating the disturbing claims he makes against her father. Could her dad really be at the helm of a firm that distorts the truth and covers up wrongdoing by hugely profitable corporations that have allowed innocent victims to die? Is it possible that her father is the bad guy, and that the undeniably alluring criminal who calls himself Moses–and his radical band of teen activists–is right? Alix has to make a choice, and time is running out, but can she truly risk everything and blow the whistle on the man who loves her and raised her?

Looks like another piece of quality not-mainly-romance-y YA, which I welcome!