For regular readers of this blog, you will know already about my slightly obsessive love of Chuck Palahniuk and also about abusing my supervisory powers, to have staff rummage through numerous boxes, just so I could get my hands on his latest book “Pygmy”, which I’d been eagerly awaiting since finishing his last novel “Snuff” where Chuck turned his warped world view to the world of pornography and record breaking gangbangs and it’s this view point that he now turns to another popular subject of the moment “Terrorists secretly invading the Homeland” which is the subject of focus for this latest novel, which see’s a dozen exchange students sent from an unnamed totalitarian homeland to America’s Midwest, who are actually Undercover operatives / Terrorists with a plan to pull off something big, with the whole story being seen through the eyes of “Agent Number 67” nicknamed Pygmy due to his size.
The plot as I have already stated in an earlier review is very similar to that of The Simpsons episode “"The Crepes of Wrath" but thankfully these feelings of similarities are only faint, especially seeing how this might be one of his most twisted books yet, as he once again pushes the boundaries of good taste, occasionally taking a step or two over those lines, before walking back rather than throwing himself over the line and into the filthy waters of bad taste, the way that John Waters prefers in his film and it’s a strategy that works well here and helping make the shocking scenes have all the more impact for the reader, which is equally helped by the Naive nature of the title character, who despite performing several shocking acts throughout the book, including sexually assaulting the bully of his host brother, an act which doesn’t appear to faze him and what the reader can only assume is, a trait of his training, which appears in flashbacks throughout the novel and when compared to his other operatives, this Naïve like quality is only emphasised further.
The bathroom rape scene, which shockingly happens quite close to the start of the novel, is something that will no doubt have the fair weather fans, rushing their copies back to the shop and almost feels as if Chuck is issuing you with a challenge to read on or perhaps even warning of things to come, by saying “If you can’t stomach this, then this book isn’t going to be for you”.
The plot is similar in its randomness, to many of Chuck’s other novels which for regular readers might help gloss over, certain plot points which might stand out to the first time reader, such as why the host sister chooses to make a vibrator for her school science project? True it might tie in with an earlier plot point involving the host mother and her obsession with vibrators, who is even throwing vibrator parties in the house basement, which is humorously seen as the evolution from Tupperware parties, both which however felt in a way like leftover research from his previous novel “Snuff”.
Another point which might also stop many (and especially the easy deterred) readers getting into this book, is the style in which Chuck has chosen to write in, which is comparable to the early novels of Irvine Welsh, which had dialogue written they way people talk, requiring the reader to tune their brain into the language being used and the same can be said for “Pygmy” which due to being seen through the eyes of Agent Number 67, means that the story is told using rather unique dialogue, which is described as being “Imgrish” and is a strange mixture of broken English and scientific style view points, which does become easier to read, the further through the novel you get, though I couldn’t say whether this was a representation of his English getting better or my brain managing to work it’s way around the language, it is hard to say honestly. I do believe though that this style of writing has prevented it, from being embraced by the mass market and no doubt the reason, that it hasn’t been seen as a scandalous book that should be taken off sale and pulped, which is what I was expecting when this novel was first announced and a move that continues to keep Chuck as a decidedly cult author. The downside however to choosing to tell the story this way, is that often it can get really confusing as to what is supposed to be happening, especially when Agent Number 67 would rather describe most places, than name what they are and have the reader figure things out for themselves, which often won’t been until you get a page or so into the scene, that your finally twig “Ohh they are at a church”. True it might work to some effect, such as an early scene when the family take him to Walmart, where he proceeds to try and buy assault rifles with little success, but the majority of times I felt that it just didn’t work and caused nothing but frustration, seeing how it’s already not the easiest book to read, thanks to the language being used (and thanks also to screaming kids on the train), but why only add to this confusion and not give the reader a little rock of calm in this storm of confusion?
“Pygmy” isn’t Chucks strongest novel though it is still not his worst, which is an honour held by “Diary” which thankfully this is nowhere near as bad as, for once you get past the mild irritation of adjusting your head to the language, it is still a very readable novel and certainly one that I didn’t have much trouble finishing, though whether this is more to do with my fan boy worship of the author in question, I can’ honestly say, though it remains clear that Chuck is still an author that is still not afraid to challenge himself, to write in yet another style when most established authors would be happy to just keep things simple and appeal to the mass market, though it would seem for the moment, that Chuck is still happy to just write how he does and leave it for the mainstream readers to discover his world for themselves, rather than rely on the hallow praise of daytime TV to drive his sales.