You’ll read the first two pages, then check out page fifty and page 137, just to see if the writing is like that throughout the whole book. It is. It might be hard at first, but you’ll quickly realize you’ve never read anything like Pygmy, the latest novel from über-productive author Chuck Palahniuk.
A small boy, called Pygmy by his adoptive American family, seems innocent. The denizens of his typical American town might dislike him, and be racist, but it’s a Borat-like dislike: they want to convert him to the American way. Thing is, Pygmy’s actually secretly plotting to destroy America at his next science fair.
Follow his cruel training in his unnamed homeland, watch him kick ass at a local Wal-Mart and see what happens when you mix bad English, cynical American schoolkids and a plot to destroy America. What you get is a Chuck Palahniuk book unlike any other. In some ways, it is similar to other Chuck Palahniuk novels: a larger world-disaster type plot reveals itself through the first person’s oft-negative narrative. Destruction and blood, some kind of US road trip, short sentences and paragraphs, specialized vocabulary, and other characteristics let you know, right away, you’re reading something from the mind who gave us Fight Club.
In other ways, though, this story is completely different. First of all, the English is intentionally horrible. Simple sentences, like “faster than the eye can see” are transformed into “more fast most eye able see”. The author created a list of linguistic rules (no “the”, no negatives, etc.) for the character’s speech, transforming everyday places like Wal-Mart and KFC into odd shrines that we still recognize thanks to Palahniuk’s talented rendering.
This novel is also unique in its focus on the power of love. There might be obsessions, attractions, and dependencies in his other novels, but in this one, the young boy brainwashed to destroy America at a science fair actually falls in love. And if you’re turned off by the idea of love in a Chuck Palahniuk book, you may find solace in the Wal-Mart bathroom rape scene, or the Model UN shooting. Sure there’s love — authentic, innocent, sweet love felt by a boy programmed never to feel anything. But there’s also everything else that’s made you appreciate previous Palahniuk stories.
This is a highly original novel. The plot and the characters are all unusual, but it is the novel’s style that takes center stage. The book is written in undeniably bad English, but all the descriptions and dialogue, when they aren’t tremendously funny (Pygmy’s conversation with the local pastor is priceless) are just stunning. Chuck Palahniuk has pulled off quite a feat here: he’s reconstructed the language for his character, and while the first lines may give you a headache, your inner narrator is probably going to end up thinking like Pygmy by the end. This is Chuck Palahniuk’s best novel.
Joseph Elfassi is a freelancer journalist and photographer. You can visit his blog at www.elfassi.ca/wordpress.