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In America, if your addiction isn't always new and improved, you're a failure. . . You start out with hand jobs and progress to orgies. You smoke some dope and then, the big H. This is our whole culture of bigger, better, stronger, faster. The key word is progress.

—Doubleday ARC, ISBN 0385501560, c.2001, p.203


Choke, the author's 4th novel, is experienced through the whining voice of Victor Mancini: “the deluded little rube who really thought the future would be any better. If you worked hard enough. . . . The stupid, lazy, ridiculous little kid who . . . didn't know that hope is just another phase you'll grow out of.” And, as an adult, would look back on his miserable life as just “more of the stupid shit to think about during sex, to keep from shooting your load” (p.7-8). You see, Vic is a self-proclaimed sex addict and this novel is his 4th step in the 12-step re-hab process that's mandatory in the sex group therapy meetings he attends. But he could care less about getting clean. He's there to get laid.


For sure, even the worst blow job is better than, say, sniffing the best rose . . . watching the greatest sunset. Hearing children laugh. . . All these people who say they want a life free from sexual compulsion, I mean forget it. I mean, what could ever be better than sex? —(p.19).


Actually, every single part of Vic's life is about deception and/or delusion. He works in a historical amusement park called Colonial Dunsboro acting like its 1734 dressed in breeches and buckled shoes. His fellow employees are all losers and stoners. Like Denny, for instance, a proverbial masturbator who spends most of his time locked in the pillory for anachronistic violations like chewing gum, wearing cologne, or listening to Death Metal through ear buds.


Denny says, “My first time I jacked off, I thought I'd invented it. I looked down at my sloppy handful of junk and thought, This is going to make me rich.” —p.34


To supplement his $6-an-hour, Vic dines out every night. Early on, he glommed onto a scam that fits perfectly into his denigrated personality: Vic stands up, faking lodged food in his throat, and therefore cajoles a stranger into administrating the Heimlich maneuver and becoming an instant, applauded hero. And this new “hero” will send Vic money in the mail long after the event. Vic the Victim has made them so proud, so happy with themselves, that they love him for it.


It's all so easy. . . Just let yourself be broken and humiliated. Just your whole life, keep telling people, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. . . (p.53) It's the martyrdom of Saint Me (p.51) . . . Fool [ing] people into loving you —(p.47).


Then there's Vic's Mother, Ida. She's bedbound in the St. Anthony's Care Center, costing Vic way more than he can afford, even with his Ponzi choking scheme. Because of Alzheimer's, lucid moments are rare. To her, Vic is her defense lawyer one week and maybe her parole officer the next. Her life has been a revolving door through life's institutions—mainly hospitals, prisons, asylums, re-habs—peppered with breakouts to spirit young Vic away from his current foster home and toss him some life's harrowing lessons. Now that she's in a Nursing Home helpless and near death, Vic wants one thing: the name of his real father.

Unfortunately, with these people closure just means in-coming darkness and continued brain scrabbling; for the reader it's more complaints and crude silliness. This peaks with Chapter Forty, a tour de force of everything you want to know about airplane bathroom sex. As with most of Palahniuk, Choke is filled with somewhat insightful, always hilarious toss-off lines:


She's not wearing makeup so her face just looks like skin—(p.22)

. . . soap opera, you know, real people pretending to be fake people with made-up problems being watched by real people to forget their real problems—(p.40)

Tanned and oiled so smooth and perfect, she looks less like a woman than just another place to swipe your credit card—(p.100).

We're so structured and micromanaged, this isn't a world anymore, it's a damn cruise ship—(p.161).

. . . it's amazing what a woman will read into it if you by accident say, I love you. Ten times out of ten, a guy means I love this.—p.182

The only thing that separates us from the animals is we have pornography —(p.199).


Palahniuk writes the prose of paranoia with a punkish, gutter vision slathered up from a University education. To him, appearance-verses-reality is not just an aesthetic concept, it's a mantra. Nothing is solid or sincere. All is artifice; a usurped reality false fronting for the low-base instincts that run humanity: lust, greed, gluttony, etc. Money and power light society's inescapable scoreboard, and the programming institutions join the corporate world of selling to control all of us. The best tag line to describe this novel is,


Please, just show me one thing in this world that is what you'd think—(p.205).


Yet out of this insanity, boredom, and desperation comes a process to stave the pressures of a Calvinistic work ethic enabling whipping-post bosses. It's really quite simple:




In Palahniuk's topsy-turvy world, broken is okay and unconsummated even better. “The longer we can tolerate being incomplete. Delay gratification,” Denny, the now-former dog-flogger, says, “the longer we can keep building, the longer we can keep creating, the more will be possible” (p.264).

I'd say another bong hit is in order to contemplate the subtle differences between Under Construction, Rationalization, and Loitering.



© copyright 03/03/2012 by Larry Crawford

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