Thursday, February 19, 2009


Chuck Palahniuk has a new book called Pygmy coming out soon and I already read it and I didn't like it very much.

Okay so. Did you see that M Night Shyamalan movie The Village? If you're like me, five minutes into that movie you were like, 'clearly these puritanical folks are modern-day back-to-olden-times people! Otherwise why would a director like Mr Shyamalan, who normally pays so much attention to details and specifics, have them all talking like people in the oughties?' And then in the end you felt very smart for having such brilliant insights when you were proved right.

My point is not that I am a brilliant, insightful genius. My point is that, if you are going to have people talk a specific, idiosyncratic way, there had better be a goddam reason for it, y'know? The whole hook of this book is, oh hey, this is fragmented English because English isn't the narrator's first language! Which is a legitimate conceit, except that when the narrator is someone who's mastered the periodic table of elements by the time he's four, there had better be a goddam reason that he can barely grasp another language's syntax. And also, while we're at it, if the book is told in the form of reports back to his home country, why the fuck is he reporting in this language he sucks at? It just doesn't hold up.

Oh, wait, no it holds up in the context of xenophobia!

Which is complicated, right, because here is what the book is about: America is full of jerks (a thesis I'd agree with) and other countries don't always like it (a thesis I'd agree with) and sometimes people from other countries do something about it via terrorism (true). This is all fine fodder for a novel, for sure. Let's even make it science fiction, and instead of having the terrorist be from a real country America has declared war on, let's have him be from a made-up, futuristic coalition of countries- that might cut down on the potential for real-world political insight or commentary, but hey, it's fiction, Chuck can do what he wants. Plus they were made-up countries in Brave New World, weren't they? Oceania was, anyway. And Brave New World worked.

That is a good idea for a book! So Chuck, why did you have to waste it on jokes about vibrators and how foreigners can't speak English right? Oh, because you're Chuck Palahniuk and you pander to an audience of manly, bro-ey duders (and me, I guess) who want titillation, not insight. Who want you to play with but ultimately reinforce their prejudices and snappy judgments.

Of course this is old news to everyone except me. Chuck Palahniuk's reputation is: famous dunderhead, churning out stupid bullshit. I think it's more complicated than that, though! Dude has a giant brain, comes up with good ideas- brutal criticism of America from an oppressed outsider's perspective!- he just always then completely blows them with jokes about that murderous vibrator, or fucking your sister or something. (Whereas when he just lets his brain goes and gets less, like, sensationalistic- see Rant or even Invisible Monsters, although I guess Invisible Monsters was pretty ridiculous- he can be pretty amazing.) When you strip away the vaguely xenophobic conceit, Pygmy is just a bunch of goddam predictably outrageous Chuck Palahniuk hijinx: "Oh, Pygmy thought that he could bake the cake in half the time if he turned the heat twice as high! Oh, Pygmy ate all the chocolates!" Whatever.

It's a shame. I want better from you, Chuck! At this point, I almost wish you hadn't written Rant, because Rant was absolutely brilliant and is one of my favorite books and if I'd never read it I certainly wouldn't keep reading this shit.


mordicai said...

I do not like Chuck Palahniuk-- I read Fight Club & Choke & that was THAT. You aren't the only one to tell me to give Rant a try though. I still bet I hate it.

I did like The Village though. Twists aside, it is pretty, subverts your expectations by making Howard the hero, & the monster is neat (if spoiler alert fake)

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