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    Choke

    Title: Choke (293 pages)
    Author: Chuck Palahniuk
    Published: 2001

    Chuck Palahniuk is, of course, best known for his blockbuster novel Fight Club, later turned into one of the biggest instant cult classic movies our generation has seen. But not everyone knows’ that Palahniuk has published a plethora of other novels. Choke is a great place to start. Though not quite as satirical as Fight Club, this book certainly can stand on its own two feet.

    Palahniuk provides the uniquely cynical voice of Victor Mancini to tell this story. He is a fairly despicable character, and yet, somehow, he manages to evoke the reader’s deepest sympathies. I found myself entirely in Mancini’s corner, even as he was manipulating people, thieving, and using every trick in the book to get some action. Palahniuk aptly describes him as an ‘antihero.’

    In order to generate an income, Mancini routinely dines at upscale restaurants and begins choking on large pieces of food. When some rich tart who fashions him or herself a hero saves the day, a savior complex develops, and Mancini is able to extract money from this individual for quite some time. He says:

    Somebody saves your life, they’ll love you forever’hellip;For the rest of their lives, these people will write me, send me cards on the anniversary. Birthday cards’hellip;They call you on the phone to find out if you’re feeling okay. To see if you might need cheering up, or cash.

    When he’s not pulling Heimlich-inducing stunts at fancy dives, he works at ‘Colonial Dunsboro,’ a simulated 1734 township, to make ends meet. He reports:

    [C]hickens stagger around Colonial Dunsboro, chickens with their heads flattened. Here are chickens with no wings or only one leg’hellip;Blind chickens without eyes. Without beaks’hellip;Defective’hellip;There’s an invisible line between science and sadism, but here it’s made visible.

    It is here that he commiserates the sad human condition with his friend, Denny (who is constantly winding up in the stocks), and attempts to get lucky with schoolteachers chaperoning field trips. His casual approach toward random sexual encounters is as intriguing as it is appalling. The fact that he is successful more often than not in his endeavors is probably the most disturbing aspect of the charade.

    Palahniuk is, of course, known for galling his readers. At his public readings, less durable listeners have been known to pass out with a fair degree of regularity. If that doesn’t make you want to read Choke, then you can probably stop reading here.

    As with any of Palahniuk’s works, religion is just as much of a target as the society that embraces it. Mancini repeatedly asks himself, ‘What would Jesus not do?’ He believes that God, if he exists, has generally abandoned the human race. In order to oppose Mancini’s nihilism, however, Denny seems to go through a spiritual conversion of sorts as the plot approaches climax. Though this newfound spirituality is ambiguous and manifests itself in a downright strange manner, it serves to balance the novel. Palahniuk is a master of making the obscene or outrageous seem appropriate, and Choke is no exception.

    Coming in at fewer than 300 pages, this is a great book to read on the fly. Chapters are short, and easy to bookmark right before class starts. There is a fantastic twist in the plot, though I won’t give away anything more than that about it. Check out Choke today. It’ll most likely drive you straight to Fight Club, if you haven’t already experienced that.

    PS: If you feel like getting a taste for Palahniuk’s style before picking this book up, try Googling the phrase ‘Chuck Palahniuk Guts.’ I will warn you though: prepare to be disturbed. Happy reading.

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