Monday, June 22, 2009

Pygmy- Chuck Palahniuk (incomplete)

Happy 100 posts day! It's unfortunate that it must be so slight a review this time, but I could not fail to report about what happened with Pygmy, Chuck Palahniuk's most recent novel.

As some of you may be aware I have reviewed all of this author's books on this blog, owing the obsession to a bit of film rights success envy. Along with Bret Easton Ellis (and perhaps Cormac McCarthy, we might say) Palahniuk seems to attract filmmakers with his work at an above-average rate. I've liked a lot of Palahniuk's books (Choke is a much better book than film, and Rant is very original and may be made into a movie soon), but I could not get past the second chapter of Pygmy. Faced with carrying it around with me for two weeks and seeing what happened, or trying to take on Proust instead, this book went back into the return bin.

What's the problem with it? It's quite simple really. I feel like this is the true literary equivalent to Eli Cash's novel Wildcat, to those that have seen The Royal Tenenbaums. In the scene in that movie, the Charlie Rose-type journalist asks the author, "Wildcat. Not a success. Can you explain why?" And Owen Wilson replies, "Wildcat. It was written in an obscure vernacular. Wow, Wildcat. Pttcchhoowww. I gotta go." Now, in interviews, Palahniuk has been enthusiastic about the dialect that this novel is written in, and has said that it was kind of like writing poetry. And once one does read it for a while (I read it for about 30 pages), it is possible to get into a rhythm where it is more understandable.

While the 2nd chapter may be "hardcore," or whatever, it's hardly believable, and the satire is so extreme that it becomes almost total nonsense, and while I am sure there is a serious moral debate taking place under metaphorical auspices, it wasn't worth the effort for me. It's almost just like somebody was on a ton of drugs and decided to write the most fucked up thing they could think of and coat it in this dense verbiage of broken English -- that's what the first 3 chapters read like to me. There apparently is a fully realized story here--some young kid from the Middle East is passing himself off as an exchange student but is really part of a network of terrorists, and apparently he protects the boy in the family he is staying with in unlikely ways (say, by raping the bully that picks on him in the ass) and it seems predictable that he is falling in love with the girl in the family.

Sadly, the vernacular got to me, and the story struck me as being far too over the top for me to feel like I would get something out of this book. Perhaps this is a long overdue reaction about anti-American sentiment post 9/11, and while maybe later Palahniuk does some amazing things, the text just simply did not engage me. It challenged me, and frustrated me, and I do not feel it rewarded me for understanding what was happening, because it seemed like what was happening was just, I don't know, over my head. When somebody comes up to me and tells me that Pygmy is worth the effort, maybe I'll return to it. But until then, I will just say, better luck next time to Chuck. And I apologize for offering an incomplete review. If someone paid me to do this, I would have read the next two hundred pages.

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