NOTE: Please understand that this book is extremely sexually graphic and is only intended to be read by mature readers. As such, consider my review R-rated! You've been warned!
Rating: 2 out of 5
I think one of the women in my book club summed up Beautiful You the best with these three words:
"Flying. Flaming. Dildos."
If I was still in college, I could spend hours writing essay after essay about this novel, but for the sake of time, let me give you all a brief synopsis: protagonist Penny Harrigan is working at a law firm in Manhattan when she catches the attention of C. Linus Maxwell (aka "Climax-Well"), a tech billionaire with plans to release a line of sex toys for women. After a few ultra-fancy dates, Penny becomes Maxwell's girlfriend/test subject, experiencing pleasure like never before.
The reader clearly learns that this orgasmic bliss wears off, since the very first scene of the story begins at the end, with Penny being sexually assaulted in a courtroom while everyone merely gawks at her, offering no defense whatsoever. As shocking as the scene is, you're immediately hooked into wanting to learn the details of Penny's rise and fall as the co-creator of Maxwell's Beautiful You products.
I can't say much else without giving away the entire plot, but its controversial subject matter made it an excellent choice for our book club. How would a dozen ladies view a book about women addicted to their vibrators that was written by a gay man?
We all agreed that this novel was downright strange. Although we found it similar to the poor girl/rich man power struggle of Fifty Shades of Grey, no one thought it was sexy. The actual sex scenes were clinical and sterile, with Maxwell as mere observer to Penny, his science experiment.
Another comparison I made was to Davey Havok's Pop Kids, which was equally pornographic in nature without any real romance. Both stories played up the satire: Pop Kids was a response to the obsession with celebrity, whereas Beautiful You addresses the economic and political effects of advertising in a capitalist society.
I'd be the first to sing the praises of Fight Club for its anti-capitalistic message. This was the phenomenal novel that brought us gems like this:
Straight, cisgender men have been seduced by scantily-clad women in advertisements for decades. One only has to look to the likes of AXE body spray and Carl's Jr. for evidence. It seemed that Palahniuk was trying to flip feminism on its head by imagining a world in which women, as the primary controllers of household spending, were sold sex--literally. How would society fare if half its population was rendered incapacitated by its hedonistic urges?
Unfortunately, like Pop Kids, the satire in Beautiful You fell flat for me. Palahniuk probably thought he was being oh-so-clever with this sexual world domination story, and pissing off hordes of feminists like myself was likely icing on his cake. As much as I loved Fight Club, I fear that Palahniuk may be resorting to shock value simply because he can take all the risks he wants and every publisher on the planet would still want to represent him.
My book club is more forgiving than me, rating Beautiful You 3 out of 5 stars, but I'm curious to hear what you think as well! Is Chuck Palahniuk a literary genius or just phoning it in? Share your thoughts in the comments!