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I like big books.


Pygmy - Chuck Palahniuk 3 stars because I just felt like the usual cultural and societal observations that Palahniuk is renowned for were just too obvious. Perhaps Fight Club ruined it. It broke ground with it's criticisms of American materialism and superficiality in ways that were breathtaking (even though the film was kind of a sell-out by casting the biggest names in Hollywood and in the subsequent marketing). Pygmy is a repetition of those same criticisms, but this time presented through the eyes of an adolescent boy on a terror mission from a totalitarian regime - an interesting and very, very funny gimmick.

Pygmy, as almost all other Palahniuk novels, offer a caricaturized, simplified rendition of American society. Palahniuk manages to present this extreme view of American society and culture through the eyes and observations of a young man on the complete polar opposite side.

Palahniuk has a way of revealing underpinning truths that you are already aware of in stark and uncomfortable ways. In Pygmy, the focus is on American culture's obsession with materialism and it's arrogant view of other societies, all of which most of us acknowledge, but seldom truly think about. It's the blatant revelation and observation of these characteristics that make us think of the smaller, more relevant instances that we observe these characteristics in ourselves.

The dialogue is absolutely brilliant, although confusing at times. Narrating in pigeon-English for an entire novel seems quite the undertaking and it usually works, but sometimes the narration is confusing and I feel like I completely missed either the jokes or the meaning. The subtle rearrangement of words is often revealing in and of itself. This probably isn't a good example, but "Pig of Guinea" instead of Guinea Pig can often lead to a completely different interpretation and some weird moments of, "Why the hell do we call it that?" or "Where did that term come from?" Some of my favorite Pygmyisms revolve around his salutations to the local Wal-Mart greeter Ms. Lilly, who is also responsible for Pygmy's acceptance as an exchange student in America and his insistence that American funerals are simplistic rituals to satisfy and feed the worms and grubs of the earth- black humor to be sure, but really, really funny. But at a certain point you kind of have to wonder. How can a kid as bright as Pygmy not be able to speak halfway decent English? Unless it was part of his cover. But. Whatever. His observations about the American education system are simultaneously sad and funny because they are absolutely true.

Interspersed throughout the narrative are brilliantly embedded quotes form megalomaniacal dictators and evil geniuses throughout human history. The narrative structure is interesting to look at. Most chapters contain a single quote repeated twice. Once toward the beginning without you being able to see the context, and once again near the end of the chapter, after some sort of climactic event that gives it shadings of new meanings. I love Palahniuk's narrative style for this very reason. He pays careful attention to the actual structure of the text, uses repetition and single-word fragments to subtly shift meaning and provide layers for understanding. Most authors focus on their word choice and crafting clever statements and don't think of how they fit into the context of the story itself, of how each line has the potential to veer the story off on a different tangent in the impressionable minds of captivated readers.

Ultimately, though the novel is entertaining, I think it pretends to be too much. Where Fight Club was incisive and invective, Pygmy seems repetitious and cliche. Americans and their materialism, a truth to be sure and our consumption of resources in proportion to our population is indeed grotesque to consider, Pygmy jumps on the bandwagon of counterculture in that it just lays blame and walks away. There is a sense of redemption in the closing scenes of the novel, not only for Pygmy, but for Americans in general, but I have to admit that it feels hollow, as if Palahniuk himself doesn't believe it.