Sunday, 2 September 2012

The WTF Book Club (August): Chemical Pink

It’s time for the first edition of a new feature here on the blog, which will be run in conjunction with “The WTF Book Club” which inturn was born out of the inspiration provided by Jenn over at "Cavalcade of Perversions" who has frequently been making attempts to showcase great cult fiction. The aim of the group being not only to get more people reading but will also help introduce those whose reading consists of more than what's currently in the top 20 list, find some new authors and read books you might not have heard of as over the course of the coming months, we will be looking at books from a wide variety of genres from social satire and horror to Bizzaro fiction and maybe even a few which will that make you stop and say "What the f**k is wrong with this person?", as we feature books by authors like Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahunik, Katherine Dunne, Edward Bunker, Charles Bukowski and more.

For the first selection the group members voted for “Chemical Pink” by Based around Aurora Jeanine Johnson an unwed mother desperate to sculpt a new life--and a new body-- in California were she meets Charles Worthington a wealthy eccentric, with an obsession for female bodybuilders while also rich enough to indulge his every decadent whim and fantasy. Finding his sexual ideal in Aurora he also sees in her the raw material from which he will shape his masterpiece.

“Chemical Pink” is a strange book to say the least, considering that it is really two books seemingly smashed together to create one surprisingly warped tale of obsession, sexual deviance and female bodybuilding, while comparable in many ways to the equally warped world view of Chuck Palahniuk whose name is frequently mentioned whenever anyone discusses this book, especially when he was writing the film adaptation of this book, which was at one time going to be the follow up project for David Fincher after the success of “Fight Club”. Sadly this now is pretty much considered a dead project with Fincher having long since moved onto other projects. Needless to say Arnoldi has remained at best a cult author and for the most people way off the radar of most readers, though as my first introduction to her work it is hard not to draw comparisons to Palahniuk, even if she lacks the black vein of humour which runs through his work, which does have the slightly detrimental effect of making this a much more sleazy read.

Based mainly around Charles and Aurora the story switches focus throughout between these two characters, while also making a slight and ultimately meaningless diversion to follow Aurora’s daughter Amy, whose view point only seemingly serves to further the idea of how obsessed Aurora is with her bodybuilding and her desire to be the best. Aurora is shown as the naive country girl brought to the big city with the prospect of making it in the bodybuilding big leagues, a goal which she pursues with religious devotion even at the cost of her child, whom now lives with Aurora’s mother. Still despite her efforts she is still struggling to make it and as a result it leads her to meet Charles, who might seem like another muscle fetishist, yet it soon becomes clear that this is really just a cover for his real perversions which are frequently nothing short of twisted, let alone the fact he is also carrying a whole heap of mummy issues and an obsession with sculpting the perfect specimen, no matter what the cost as especially seen as he turns Aurora into a guinea pig of sorts, as he teams up with trainer Henrik to help him fulfil his vision.

Originally starting off as a story about Charles, Aurora and her daughter Amy or so Arnoldi states in her authors note, with the bodybuilding aspects only being added later, I can’t help but feel that this would have been a much weaker book had that been the case, especially when non the characters we encounter are particularly likeable with Arnoldi making little attempt to improve on this, as the reader is frequently left feeling like they are nothing but ghosts in this world, only looking inwards but never truly involved in the lives of these characters. Meanwhile Arnoldi an enthusiast of body building in real life, she talks a lot about her research methods for the book in her authors note, which would explain the frequently clinical nature in which she approaches many of the bodybuilding sections, especially when she reels off drug names and body building supplements, with the same glee that Bret Easton Ellis does with brand names, only here she makes it seem ultimately cold and impersonal almost as if she was just regurgitating her research notes. 

The other main problem here is that we never seem to really go anywhere with the final competition, coming off anticlimactic almost as if she got bored and just decided to end the story suddenly, especially when the build up has you under the false belief that it is just the first of several competitions you expect to get, but never receive. What we do get though is copious amounts of deviant and unerotic sex, which only further highlights what a secondary thought the bodybuilding aspects were and perhaps only included so that Arnoldi could justify Aurora's character, which in an erotic novel context would only be heavily questioned. Meanwhile the bodybuilding parts are almost as shocking as some of the random OTT sex acts desired by Charles. Even more so when you consider how based on fact they are, especially when parts of the training regime are hard to distinguish from another of Charles's games which for myself brought back memories of the movie (and New French Extremity benchmark) "Martyrs". Yet reading reviews from bodybuilders who have read this book they all keenly note the accuracy of these scenes, even though Arnoldi chooses a grotesque viewpoint to show them from making it more of a horror show than a shining endorsement for the pursuit of the body beautiful.

While it might be easy to draw comparisons between Arnoldi and Palahunik, especially when they both choose to bring a warped world view to a society sub-culture, it is a comparison as lazy as comparing “The Wire” to “Braquo” on the basis that they are both gritty cop shows and even more so when she processes none of the talent, nor the black humour which makes Palahunik’s books so enjoyable. As my first introduction to her work I can hardly say that it has me rushing out to hunt down her other books, while it’s meandering plot frequently clinical prose, make this a slightly less gripping tale of obsession than first expected. 

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