I just finished reading Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk. The plot is simple enough: a child was taken from his parents at the age of four and was brainwashed into hating America and trained in combat and terrorism to fulfill “Operation Havoc.” Disguised as a foreign exchange student, Pygmy and his cronies infiltrate middle American homes as innocent students and begin to hatch their deadly plan. In the middle of the book, in Palahniuk fashion, there is sex and violence and a subtle commentary on all those great American things that can be so bad when taken to excess.

The novel is written in a pidgin English as it is the recording of Pygmy otherwise known as agent 67. This style lends a certain comedy to the novel as when Pygmy brutally rapes the town bully in a Wal-mart bathroom. This style also lends itself to a subtle review of all those Palahniuk themes about the dangers of consumerism and hero worship American are so prone to while also exploring a certain xenophobia that has sprung up in recent years towards America and our “spreading of freedom and democracy.”

For instance there is the scene in which Pygmy is describing his Wal-mart surrounding:

“For official record, squirrel maze of retail distribution center puzzle of competition warring objects, all improved, all package within fire color. Area divided into walls constructed from objects, all tinted color so grab eye. All object printed: Love me. Look me. Million speaking objects, begging…”

As in Fight Club we see how Palahniuk is concerned with our society’s obsession with measuring a person’s wealth by what is found in their wallet and homes rather than what is found inside the person. Another theme explored here is that subtle existential absurd—that moment when one stops to question if the life he is living is really worth living, and the person begins to question if his life has any meaning at all.

Pygmy comes to this realization as he begins to develop feelings for his host family’s sister. He questions what will happen if he is successful and kills off all his evil American enemies. His contemplation leads to a running theme throughout Palahniuk that I believe is severely overlooked: love and community. The only essay I have seen that addresses this is Jesse Kavaldo’s essay about Palahniuk being a closet moralist.

It seems that in the end, all of Palahniuk’s novels are about outcast finding someone to love, and this book is no different.

The book does has its flaws. For instance here is a group of foreign kids who talk in this broken English but win the spelling bee. There is also a scene early in the book in which Pygmy doesn’t know what a bathroom is, and this little inconstancies along with the broken writing gets grating at times.

I don’t know if it is the disappointment of Rant and Snuff along with my great desire to see Palahniuk write a good book again, but this was an entertaining book despite its flaws.

The broken style makes the book both grating but also, at times, entertaining. An example of this (and an example that ties in the idea that Palahniuk is really just a big softy, romantic) is after Pygmy receives a kiss from his sister and says, “Tongue of operative me licking own lips so able revisit lingering taste of vanished affection.” The way some of the more violent scenes are told in this style makes the scenes more poignant. The reader is jarred out of the complacency of reading this broken style as he starts to realize what is being narrated. Yet, I feel it could have been done so much better.

There are some issues of communication and, of course, about love and community that are running throughout this book that I would like to come back to soon…