Monday, April 16, 2012
Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read Pygmy on audio. Unless you're really used to keeping up with audio books, I would recommend you don't do that. My husband and I took very different experiences from this book, because I'm used to keeping up with spoken word stories, where he had to intensely concentrate to follow the narrative. The style in which it's written doesn't lend itself to an inattentive, background-noise approach.
The book is written as if a non-native English speaker with a heavy philosophical background is writing reports to his higher-ups, which is precisely what Pygmy is supposed to be. On that point, this is tremendously well-written. The tone and language is consistent throughout. However, that does mean that one has to translate some of the concepts either by context, or by remembering what the narrator was talking about the last time the subject came up. If you lose the thread, you may find yourself having to back up a few paragraphs to figure out what happened. And some of it isn't explicitly revealed.
The character of Pygmy (or "Operative Me," as he refers to himself) is deliberately obfuscated. His real name is never given. His home country, city of origin, and cultural and ethnic background are intentionally left vague. Every clue which points to one country or another has another to contradict it. This saves the author having to plant the book in a certain place and time, from finger-pointing at a particular culture, and from having to get it exactly right. I didn't see it as laziness on the author's part, though. It was a deliberate tactic to call attention to the biting satire of American culture, instead, and it works.
It wouldn't be Chuck Palahniuk without some disturbing bits of prose, and this is no exception. It didn't drive me away, like a certain short story that I blame for never having read any of Palahniuk's novels before, but it was deeply discomfiting. There's a male-on-male rape scene early on in the book that is remarkable for its ability to portray the act as one of dominance, with no titillation. I can't say that about every book that involves rape, so kudos to the world's most disturbing writer. A pet dog is consumed within the text, and not because it's Pygmy's culture to cook dogs. An eye is nearly spooned out of its socket. And there's a "smart" vibrator that is purported to lower one's gas mileage, in one of the funnier bits of disturbia.
I greatly enjoyed the satire in this book, and I found it entertaining. I don't think it's for everyone, though; a dark sense of humor is definitely a requirement before you think about picking this one up. Also, be aware that the audio book may be hard to follow, and written text may go more slowly than you're accustomed to, as you have to translate and adjust to this narrator's patter.
But, if you like dark humor and satire, if you've read and liked any of Palahniuk's other books, if you're looking for something different and a little disturbing, Pygmy is an excellent choice.
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