Fifty Shades of Error: chuckpalahniuk’s BEAUTIFUL YOU
by Dr. Joseph Suglia
1.) “Even as Penny was attacked, the judge merely stared” . Never begin a novel with a sentence written in the passive voice. This sentence, in particular, sounds as if it were transliterated from Estonian or spoken by Grimace. It contains a clumsy adverb (“merely”). It is fatiguing to read.
2.) “The court reporter continued to dutifully keyboard, transcribing Penny’s words” . Careful novelists avoid verbs such as “to continue,” “to start,” “to try,” “to remain,” and “to begin.” Such verbs weaken sentences.
3.) “It would’ve been different if there had been other women in the courtroom, but there were none” . “None” is a singular indefinite pronoun; therefore, the second independent clause should read: “there was none.”
4.) “The public sphere was devoid of women” . If I wrote this sentence, I would die inside.
5.) “Otherwise, only Penny moved” . Otherwise, what? chuckpalahniuk means: “Only Penny moved.”
6.) “Their professional faces slipped for a moment and became delighted smiles” . To which profession do the faces belong? How could a face “become” a “delighted smile”?
7.) “The first one pointed a finger at Penny, bound and helpless, watched by every masculine eye” . What makes an eye “masculine,” precisely? chuckpalahniuk confuses gender with sex.
8.) “The pair of men lifted the gurney to waist height” . The word “height” is superfluous.
9.) “Her world had been perfect, more or less” . “Perfection” is an absolute concept. There are no degrees of perfection. Something is either perfect, or it is not.
10.) “With apologies to Simone de Beauvoir, Penny didn’t want to be a third-wave anything” . Simone de Beauvoir did not live to read or hear the term “third-wave feminism,” nor did she invent the terms “first-wave” or “second-wave feminism,” nor did she even identify herself as a “first-wave” or “second-wave feminist.”
11.) “Open bottles of Evian had been left behind so quickly that they still fizzed” . Evian is mineral water, not effervescent, aerated, “sparkling” water. Therefore, Evian water does not “fizz.”
12.) “Dire as this situation seemed, Penny remained a lucky girl” . It is never a good idea to use the verb “to remain” in a novel (cf. Number Two). Avoid words that are too often coupled, such as “dire” and “situation,” “copious” and “notes,” “heated” and “debate,” “stark” and “contrast,” “devastating” and “loss,” “firm” and “believer,” “pregnant” and “pause,” etc. A few days after this book was published, I went to Google and typed “dire situation” in the search window, and 1,700,000 results virtualized.
13.) “She knew she sounded pathetic” . “Pathetic” is derived from the Greek pathos, which means “suffering.” Here, it is used in the stale colloquial sense: “She knew she sounded like a loser.” Generally speaking, novelists should write familiar things in an unfamiliar way, not familiar things in a familiar way.
14.) “Even to her own ears she sounded crazy ambitious” . That ought to read “crazily,” of course, but who cares? No one cares about writing these days. Writing has nothing to do with writing.
15.) “The night air was warm, but Penny felt a chill down her spine, exposed by the plunging back of her Vera Wang gown” . “To feel a chill down one’s spine” is, of course, a fossilized expression. In 2014, if you typed “chill down spine” into Google, 3,830,000 results appeared. The chuckies will claim, in advance, that every platitude is intentionally platitudinous. But an intentional platitude is still a platitude.
16.) “The crowd was visibly disappointed as the film star turned away” . “Visibly disappointed” is yet another dreary cliché. In 2014, it registered 2,020,000 results on Google.
17.) “Like a doctor or a scientist, his fingertips gripped her as if he was testing her blood pressure” . What kind of scientist would test a woman’s blood pressure? Why are there two similes that mean exactly the same thing in one sentence? And that should read: “as if he were.”
18.) “He poured in a smidgen more champagne and set the bottle aside” . The word “smidgen” is properly used to describe solid objects, not liquid. Have you ever heard someone ask for a smidgen of milk?
19.) “Under his gaze, Penny felt less like a woman than like a science experiment. A guinea pig or a laboratory rat” . I’ve never heard that one before.
20.) “Penny giggled, limp as a rag doll” . Strong writers rescramble and defamiliarize clichés. Weak writers, such as chuckpalahniuk, repeat them brainlessly.
21.) “A torrent of animal gibberish and profanities threatened to boil out of her mouth, and the digital recorder was running” . “Profanity” is a non-count noun, if one is above the age of five.
22.) “The packaging would be pink, but not obnoxiously” . That ought to read: “not obnoxiously pink,” “not obnoxious,” or “not obnoxiously so.” And “obnoxious,” etymologically, means “exposing to danger,” not “irritating” or “annoying.”
23.) “She slept like a baby” . A cliché is dead language, and this sentence is lifeless.
24.) “Savoring her reaction, the gloating genius waved to flag a waiter” . “Savoring her reaction” is a cliché, “gloating genius” is a clunker, and “waved to flag” is a tautology.
25.) “It didn’t help that people expected her to be ecstatic. No one wanted to hear the problems of a disappointed Cinderella; she was supposed to live happily ever after” . “Ecstatic” does not mean “happy”; it means “outside-of-oneself.”
26.) “He only wanted to test his tantric thingamajigs on her” . When words fail chuckpalahniuk, and they always do, he spews garbled baby talk. On the next page, chuckpalahniuk uses the clever term “doohickey.”
27.) “Penny wanted to believe that making love was more than just fiddling with nerve endings until harum-scarum chemicals squirted around limbic systems” . chuckpalahniuk really shows his age here: “harum-scarum.” Even his slang is out of date. If he keeps using superannuated slang, mentally defective fourteen-year-old boys will no longer read him (or his books).
28.) “Penny tried to steer the conversation” . In 2014, “steer the conversation” resulted in 8,080,000 hits on Google. Into what or toward what did Penny try to steer the conversation? Does chuckpalahniuk even care?
29.) “A voice near the back of the crowd called out, ‘Will it work on eggplants?'” . “Near the back of the crowd” is hideously awkward, and experienced speakers and writers of English know that “eggplant” is a non-count noun.
30.) “To cut her from the pack of other mothers, he complimented her appearance” . “Complimented her appearance” is a clanging bromide. To conjoin “cut” and “pack” is the to mix metaphors. And isn’t this a bit too much telling and not enough showing?
31.) “Despite his icy demeanor she sensed Max’s little-boy heart was breaking” . How many times in one’s life must one hear and read the phrase “icy demeanor”? There was a time when writers were admired by readers for writing sentences that readers could not write themselves. The chuckies admire the Ignoble Barnyard Yokel for writing sentences that they COULD write themselves. Any talentless, increative imbecile could write a sentence such as the one that I cited above.
32.) “Penny followed his gaze to a girl cooling her heels on the sidewalk, her arms folded across her chest” . In the year in which this book was published, “to cool one’s heels” appeared 4,730,000 times on Google.
33.) “The majority of her coworkers listened, spellbound” . “The majority of” enfeebles the sentence. And “spellbound”! A few pages earlier, someone is described as “dumbfounded.” One comes to a work of literature to escape from verbal garbage, not to submerge oneself in it.
34.) “Weighing her words carefully, the Nebraska housewife said, ‘I bought you some of those Beautiful You doohickeys'” . And if chuckpalahniuk had weighed his words carefully, he would have known that “to weigh one’s words carefully” is a brain-deadening cliché.
35.) “The stench was appalling” . A talented writer knows how to conjure the stench of something, of anything, without flatly describing that stench as “appalling.”
36.) “The foolish lecher was already discarding his overcoat, his shirt, his pants” . Genuine literary artists eschew evaluative remarks (“foolish lecher”) and let the reader do the interpreting.
37.) “Voices shouted in the hallway outside” . Not inside, then?
38.) “In the stance of a sumo wrestler, she lackadaisically stroked herself with a short, knurled length of what looked like damp wood” . “Lackadaisically” kills the sentence. And that should read: “the short, knurled length,” if one insists on putting the words “short,” “knurled,” and “length” together.
39.) “Leaving the fireside, she waddled across the cave’s littered floor in search of something” [217-218]. “Littered” with what? As a stand-alone adjective, “littered” is fatuous.
40.) “Making quick work, she prompted the nanobots in her brain and bloodstream to create the overwhelming pleasure of Tom Berenger and Richard Thomas kissing her wetly on the lips and breasts” . “Making quick work” of what? To write, “making quick work” without specifying an object is idiotic. The novel takes place a few years in the future (circa 2018), and the “she” was born sometime in the 1990s. Why would a twenty-something American woman lust after superannuated actors such as Tom Berenger and Richard Thomas?
41.) Or Ron Howard?
42.) We are living in a culture in which there are more writers than there are readers.
43.) We are living in a culture in which even the slightest sign of intelligence is enough to throw a crowd into a rage, is enough to mobilize a mob. In such a culture, bacteria grow.
44.) Beautiful You resembles an ill-drawn cartoon.
45.) chuckpalahniuk and his drooling, foolish followers have murdered literature.
46.) Literature is dead.
47.) chuckpalahniuk is the least intelligent writer in America.
48.) He is a writer who does not know how to write who writes books for readers who do not know how to read.
49.) He is a contemptible, vile, low writer who pollutes bookstores, libraries, and bookshelves with his nauseating idiocy.
50.) Beautiful You is the twittering of a dimwitted twit.
Dr. Joseph Suglia