Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pygmy

Alas, the time has come when I am to review one of my all-time top favorite authors, the dark, satirical genius Chuck Palahniuk. Oddly, and somewhat undesirably, this comes after venturing (and chuckling hard) through his latest and most most idiosyncratic entries into the literary world. After first reading "Lullaby" a long time ago stemming from curiousity about the author's work from watching "Fight Club", it became an immediate obligation to read as many of his work as possible. So far, I've gotten through 5 1/2 of them. Something in me completely rebels against reading "Snuff" for some reason. The book just appears to be pointless (although my brain tells me it's not). But while the promotion for that book was in the works, I read on Wikipedia the plot summary of "Pygmy" and pre-ordered it immediately.

Written in disjointed and fragmented English grammar, "Pygmy" is the story of a young unnamed boy from a totalitarian country, sent through a Foreign Exchange Student program to America to live with what is characterized as the typical American family. Of course, we must add to this that the boy is an operative, raised and sent to the States as a terrorist to unhatch a massive deadly plot will genocidally take care of "American parasites". But as time passes, things change.........

I must've looked like some sort of Special Ed student while reading the first few pages on the train, from laughing to myself so hard:

"For official record, host father present as vast breathing cow, blowing out
putrid stink diet heavy with dead slaughterhouse flesh, bellowing stench of
Viagra breath during cow father reach to clasp hand of operative me. From tissue
compress rate of father fist, bone-to-cow ratio, host father contain 31.2
percent body fat." (pg. 2 of hardcover)
The language is, of course, better than even the story itself. Although appearing quite robotic and stiff in nature, as is the intended impression of a character raised in a strict totalitarian, worker-training country, where death and life were very solid neighbors on two sides of a thin line, Palahniuk skillfully keeps it from failing the protagonist as a human. Plenty of his own emotions, even when communicated through his artificial pseudo-science talk, still manage to appear as genuine as they're supposed to.

It also serves to reflect our society's nature and traditions back on to us in a very practical and hysterical light, such as teenagers at the yearly prom:
"Occasional male student approach female, request mutual gyrate to demonstrate
adequate reproductive partner, fast gyrate to display no cripple. No genetic
defect to bequeath offspring. Demonstrate coordinated, plenty vital to provision
impregnated female throughout gestation period. Provision subsequent offspring
until matured. Females flaunt dermis and hair to depict viable vessel for
impregnate, paint face so appear most symmetrical. Best likely produce frequent
alive births." (pg. 56 of hardcover)
The narrative itself, however, will have to be declared as one of Chuck's weakest. Sure, the novel is chock full of Palahniukian commentary on pop culture, in this case the political and economic structure of this very country (pay attention to what is said of the rape scene at the beginning of the story). Sure, it has the typically detailed ultra-graphic sexual and violent acts that the Palahniuk fan is used to. And it has, overall, plenty of new ways to look at our own lives. But the characters and situations used to convey these things are entirely too flat, especially for the author of "Rant". "Pygmy" is very well developed, perhaps even beyond what we actually need. As a consequence, he completely shadows over almost every other character in the book, especially his own family. The protagonist grows attachments to people, and keeps distances from other people, that I didn't really sympathize with or understand.

For the true comical cynicism, I'd recommend "Survivor" or "Lullaby" before tackling his recent works. Those are representatives of him at his peak, while this shows him trying to go a more straightforward, slap-happy direction. So, although this is certainly not one of Palahniuk's best, it in itself is still a great novel.

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Bollocks, what's your bloody take on things then?