Palahniuk's audacious ninth novel tells the story of Cassie Wright, an aging porn queen who intends to put an exclamation point on her career by having sex with 600 men in one day on film. The story begins with Mr. 600—the pornosaur who introduced Cassie to the business—as he describes the other 599 actors awaiting their moment on screen. The perspective then shifts to Mr. 72, an adopted Midwestern 20-something who is one of the many young men claiming to be Cassie's long-lost son. Mr. 137, a has-been television star hoping to revive his career, wants to ask Cassie's hand in marriage so that the two can star in a reality TV show. But for a novel centered around a gargantuan gangbang, there's surprisingly little action; the small amount of narrative movement takes place backstage, where the characters attempt to get a sense of one another while waiting for their number to be called.
Featuring soap made from human fat, waiters at high-class restaurants who do unmentionable things to soup and an underground organization dedicated to inflicting a violent anarchy upon the land, Palahniuk's apocalyptic first novel is clearly not for the faint of heart. The unnamed (and extremely unreliable) narrator, who makes his living investigating accidents for a car company in order to assess their liability, is combating insomnia and a general sense of anomie by attending a steady series of support-group meetings for the grievously ill, at one of which (testicular cancer) he meets a young woman named Marla. She and the narrator get into a love triangle of sorts with Tyler Durden, a mysterious and gleefully destructive young man with whom the narrator starts a fight club, a secret society that offers young professionals the chance to beat one another to a bloody pulp. Mayhem ensues, beginning with the narrator's condo exploding and culminating with a terrorist attack on the world's tallest building. Writing in an ironic deadpan and including something to offend everyone, Palahniuk is a risky writer who takes chances galore, especially with a particularly bizarre plot twist he throws in late in the book. Caustic, outrageous, bleakly funny, violent and always unsettling, Palahniuk's utterly original creation will make even the most jaded reader sit up and take notice.
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