Review: Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk


About Beautiful You

"A billion husbands are about to be replaced."

From the author of Fight Club, the classic portrait of the damaged contemporary male psyche, now comes this novel about the apocalyptic marketing possibilities of female pleasure. Sisters will be doing it for themselves. And doing it. And doing it. And doing it some more . . . Penny Harrigan is a low-level associate in a big Manhattan law firm with an apartment in Queens and no love life at all. So it comes as a great shock when she finds herself invited to dinner by one C. Linus Maxwell, aka "Climax-Well," a software mega-billionaire and lover of the most gorgeous and accomplished women on earth. After dining at Manhattan's most exclusive restaurant, he whisks Penny off to a hotel suite in Paris, where he proceeds, notebook in hand, to bring her to previously undreamed-of heights of orgasmic pleasure for days on end. What's not to like? This: Penny discovers that she is a test subject for the final development of a line of sex toys to be marketed in a nationwide chain of boutiques called Beautiful You. So potent and effective are these devices that women by the millions line up outside the stores on opening day and then lock themselves in their room with them and stop coming out. Except for batteries. Maxwell's plan for erotically enabled world domination must be stopped. But how?

About the Author

Chuck Palahniuk's novels are the bestselling Fight Club, which was made into a film by director David Fincher, Diary, Lullaby, Survivor, Haunted, and Invisible Monsters. Portions of Choke have appeared in Playboy, and Palahniuk's nonfiction work has been published by Gear, Black Book, The Stranger, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.

My Thoughts

(This review is based on an advanced reader's copy obtained from the publisher via NetGalley.)

In Beautiful You, Chuch Palahniuk takes the War on Women to the next level with this dystopic satire centered around female orgasms.

C. Linus Maxwell has earned his tabloid nickname "Climax-Well" with the unveiling of his line of Beautiful You personal care products for women. Thoroughly researched and based on the tantric sex secrets of the ancients, the Beautiful You products quickly ensnare the vast majority of the global female population, from the first female president of the United States to a multiple-Academy Award winning French actress. New York turns chaotic as women begin disappearing, lost to the abyss of self-pleasure and turned into emaciated, toy-addicted zombies. Only Penny Harrigan, one of Maxwell's most recent conquests and research assistant, can help stem the tide and undo his evil plans for world domination.

Beautiful You is a fun read, but ultimately lacks sufficient depth. Palahniuk seems too content to rely on stereotypes surrounding women - their love of shoes and tawdry romance vampire novels and their inferior rankings in a man's world - rather than subverting them or plumbing them to their fullest depths. However, it makes for fun fodder, if only on a superficial mockery of the Fox News/Men's Rights Movement perception on what women are like.

Penny herself is, at times, the lone standout and the primary focus of the novel. While there are other women present and accounted for, few of them make any lasting impression and appear to be notable only for their achievements in-world and not for any particularly skilled characterization. Most of the women that appear in this book have achieved notable success, but serve only as pawns to Maxwell's scheming and have been coerced into their fame only through his machinations.

While worth a read, the book feels imbalanced between trying to make a point for female autonomy and mocking the far-right's fear of all-things vaginal. Even Todd Akin's idiocy gets some wish-fulfillment in a rape scene echoing the congressman's ignorance when he espoused his nonsensical views on "legitimate rape" and how women's bodies have a way of shutting that down. And while it scores points with its deft maneuvering on topics of commercialism and advertising, and how many men and society itself would utterly collapse without the presence of women, too much of the story itself is reliant on stereotyping and a pack-view mentality of women without any real glimpses of individuality or sparks of life outside of the book's central character. Beautiful You rarely goes deeper than the superficial, and although its topic of women's perceived roles in contemporary American society and politics is certainly ripe for satirizing, it does little else beyond pointing fingers at current problems in exchange for some knowing laughs. The book is a light breezy read, but on a topic that deserves more subtly and nuance than it receives here. Three stars.

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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