Pygmy: Is Palahniuk even trying anymore?
Chuck Palahniuk released another book a few months ago entitled “Pygmy,” just a year after his last book, “Snuff,” which I did not like. I was surprised when I found out another book had been released so soon; most authors usually have a larger gap between books. I figured with the steady decline in quality that his work has had that it probably wasn’t going to be any good, but it was short so I figured it wouldn’t take to long to read. So, going against my better judgment I picked it up, hoping it would at least be better than his last few books have been. I really need to start trusting those first instincts.
The story is about a young Asian spy from an unnamed country posing as an exchange student in America. While here, he is working to put a plan in motion that involves winning the local science fair so he can go to Washington and set off a device that will kill millions of Americans. This is different from his usual work and for some reason felt a little ridiculous to me. Yet I had no problem accepting the plot of “Survivor,” which involved a man becoming the leader of a cult and building a giant landfill of pornography. Maybe it had to do with the narrative style of this book that just completely turned me off to the story.
The entire book is told through the first person perspective of the Asian kid, only referred to by his adopted family and classmates as “Pygmy.” The problem with this is Palahniuk felt the need to keep it authentic, as Pygmy doesn’t speak English very well. So, the entire book is written in broken English, making descriptions difficult to decipher and details hard to keep track of. Half the time I wasn’t sure what was going on until about halfway through a chapter. The things you do understand are all stereotypical: America is referred to as “The Great Satan,” most women are referred to by nicknames for breasts, and his fellow spies (who have almost no impact on the story at all) are called “comrade.” I see what he was trying to do here, but honestly, the whole thing comes off as a little bit racist. The only way it could have been worse is if he had written things like “Ha-ha, look at the slant eye! Ching-chong!”
Of course, no Palahniuk book would be complete without scenes meant to gross out. They’re usually tied into the plot, but he doesn’t even seem to be trying anymore, and just inserts them wherever he pleases. In this book, two scenes really stick out, and only one has any relation to the plot. The first is an anal rape scene, which happens in the second chapter. He goes into so much detail, the whole thing kind of drags on more than it disgusts. Of course he keeps referring back to it in later chapters, but it actually has an impact on the story. The second gross out scene is entirely pointless, it seems like it’s supposed to be a joke but it goes on for more than a page. It involves pygmy reaching into the vagina of his passed out foster mother in order to get her vibrator so he can steal the batteries. I really wonder what was going through his head when he wrote that, my mind is reeling just from writing the description. The whole scene is entirely pointless, but then again, the entire book feels like that.
The book wraps up pretty quickly too. It’s almost as if while writing he realized he passed the 200 page mark, and said to himself, “Well I dragged this on long enough, let’s end it,” then used the last thirty pages to wrap everything up. If that wasn’t insulting enough, it ends on a high note where everything works out, which is something he’s never done before. His previous books had endings that weren’t bad, but usually left open to interpretation, or they ended on a dark note if anything. The last chapter of this book feels like the end of a Scooby-doo episode. The protagonists get what they want, the plan is exposed and the villains are carted off, roll credits.
This book sucked. The characters are unlikable, it’s hard to read, the plot barely makes any sense, and it’s often both sexist and racist. Palahniuk is continuing his downward spiral with each book he writes. One of these days I hope I’ll finally learn my lesson and stop reading them.
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Doubleday; (May 5, 2009)