Review of Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk isn’t an author who languishes in the comfort zone. If you asked Chuck to play catch with you, he would set the ground rules as:

1. First, we set the ball on fire.

2. Then, we set each other on fire.

3. Then, we play in a minefield located on the edge of a precarious cliff.

4. We set the cliff and minefield on fire as well.

5. And just to make things interesting, let’s cut ourselves open, remove our livers and sew them together to use as the ball.

If you decline his rules, he’s out.

I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since Fight Club. His insistence on playing in the dark areas of the mind is fascinating and anytime a new Palahniuk novel comes out, I buy it immediately. Whatever it may be about, it takes me to places that I would not dare to think of on my own.

So, when Pygmy came out in 2009, I bought it the week it released and greedily read 30 pages before putting it away. I picked it up as an audio book this week and struggled through more of it. I still haven’t finished. I probably won’t.

Pygmy follows the secret agent from the Asian country of [redacted] as he infiltrates American society as a foreign exchange student staying with an “average” American family with the intent of carrying out Operation Havoc. It is through his eyes that the story unfolds in first-person, and the broken English (Engrish) of the narrator makes this a difficult and sometimes unintelligible read.

Example: “Location former chew gum, chocolate snack, salted chips of potato, current now occupy with cylinder white paraffin encase burning string, many tiny single fire.”

What? So much work saying so little and doing so in a way that is almost incomprehensible.

The entire book is written in epistolary style, as “Operative Me” takes us through the events that follow his infiltration of America. Now, I like the story and the concept. I admire Chuck for choosing this unique prose, but I can’t enjoy it. I could force myself through it, but why?

Had the story been written in 3rd person, grammatically correct English, I would have devoured this book. As it is, I don’t think I will even finish it. I will add that I did finish his previous disappointment, Snuff, but Pygmy just went too far out there.

So Chuck, when your next novel, Damned releases, I will buy it, knowing you will rebel against all the rules and relishing it. When writing, the rules of English and grammar really are important and well, some rules just shouldn’t be broken.

© 2011, Mitch Lavender

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