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markarayner

Dilettante

A cursory and curious listing of books and literatrivia. 

Pygmy

Pygmy - I'll state from the outset that I greatly admire Chuck Palahniuk for his inventive storytelling, muscular language, and his ability to talk about really nasty stuff in a funny way. So, my reading of his latest novel, PYGMY, is definitely colored by that bias.I'd say this is a worthy addition to his canon. But like his other work, PYGMY isn't without its challenges. It's dark, visceral, and dripping with various bodily fluids.PYGMY follows the misadventures of Agent Number 67, sent to the American Midwest by an undisclosed Maoist dictatorship to inflict "Operation Havoc" on the corrupt, fat and stupid running dogs of Imperialism known to us as the American people. He and a number of other agents have been sent in a student exchange program. At first, you might find the way the story is told to be quite a hurdle. Pygmy (so named by his host family because of his short stature) tells the story in a series of dispatches to his government, using a kind of pidgin English. I got used to it within a chapter or so, but there are occasional paragraphs that are so dense with description you will definitely have to read them twice to understand what he's really trying to say. For example: "Traversing dark environment en route destination, surrounded mating cry cricket, croak of bulls frog, lecture this agent concerning France missive entitled Le Defi Americain. How admonish intellectual elite over manner United States numerous multinational corporation Kodak, Gillette, General Motor endeavor tangle entire globe ensnared tentacles sucking wealth for digest and fatten parent sovereign American nation, leeching life energy addition opportunity during render subject nation stripped resources and native cultures."But when Pygmy's voice works, it really sings. I found the book came to life in the scenes where Pygmy describes traditional high school rituals, such as Glee Club, the Model United Nations, school dances, and the adolescent ritual of dodgeball:"Commencement of ritual, physical superior males select best combatants for accompany into battle, thus ranking all from most-best to least desirable for reproduction during females note close attention. Next then, divided males engage violent assault upon each opposite army, battering with inflated bladders latex rubber."Over course conflict, males boasting superior musculature inflict injury upon males typical of superior intellect, although suffering inferior height-to-weight ratio, body mass index, and stature."At completion dodgeball ritual, females made full aware which males present most-desirable physical traits. Vanquished males culled by injury, weak reproductive citizens force self-select, redirect, instead impregnate mates, procreate offspring, instead channel aggressions chess club, focus sexual ambitions science club."And it is the Science Fair that is the focus of Pygmy and the other agent's "Operation Havoc" -- for Pygmy, this is not just because of his orders, but because his host sister, "cat sister" as he calls her, is also working on a science project for the fair, and while she works on it, he falls for her. (She is one of the few Americans for whom he has any respect.) Yes, this is a kind of love story in addition to being a satire.In many ways, this is a more broad satire than I've seen in other Palahniuk works, but I enjoyed the farcical nature of some of the scenes -- I laughed out loud in a few places. Also really enjoyed the double-edged nature of the satire, which is always the best kind. It makes fun of American culture and in some ways, the satire of totalitarianism is just as savage. (You don't see many books opening with a quote by Hitler.) I'd recommend it, with the proviso that you should check out the sample chapter [pdf link:], to see if the way the story is told will work for you.Oh, and don't stop reading at chapter two -- the anal rape scene is a central plot point, so it's not gratuitous. (Perhaps some of the description, but not the event itself.)You can learn more about the book at Chuck's official website, and there are more reviews available at Goodreads.