Monday, August 17, 2009

Palahniuk left me choking on description, but gagging on lack of originality

"What a twist--" it's the constant joke on Robot Chicken, referring to writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. The ol' Hollywood Twist, the O. Henry tale. Writer's have been doing it for ages, haven't they? And we enjoy reading a novel, a short story - or watching a movie - that features such a twist; it keeps us on our toes.

The search for the elusive good book lead me to Chuck Palahniuk who has gain a fan base undoubtedly because of his novel (an its adaptation) Fight Club. Tumblr users are always ranting and raving, praising him for his originality and his ability to play the twist - oh, so you think you know the truth, well here it is buddy - GOTCHA! You didn't see it comin' did you, asshole? - but Tumblr has been wrong before.

Maybe my problem is I read the wrong book. Rather than reading the Holy Bible of Palahniuk, I instead picked up a used copy of Choke. The book revolves around the story of Victor Mancini, a sex addict, a scam artist who chokes in upscale restaurants, allowing himself to be saved by other patrons who will then feel responsible for him and inevitably sending him checks and birthday cards. His mother is slowly dying in a mental ward at St. Anthony's, while his best friend fills his house up with useless rocks in order to keep from masturbating. All in all, Victor Mancini's a pretty unlovable guy, a real asshole - someone you go up to in the streets and punch. When Dr. Paige Marshall enters his life, however, things take a turn and Victor Mancini is thrown into a world that's unfamiliar as the truth about his origins start to leak out from his mother's diary.

Unlike the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story of Fight Club, Choke is a tour de force of a shitty character. Though I suppose that's Palahniuk's thing. While I've never read the book, I have seen the movie Fight Club and was let down by all the hype that surrounded the film. A predictable ending, unlovable, pathetic characters - the only thing that made it worth while is Ed Norton's acting.

But Choke is of a different thread. There's really no lessons learned and the obvious is stated the moment I leafed through chapter three. I've never seen the movie, but surely if I watch it now, I have a feeling that I'll be just as disappointed with it as I was with Fight Club.

However, the ride wasn't all that bad. While the plot and the "mind twisting" ending was all too predictable (I won't give out spoilers because I hate doing so) Palahniuk does have the key of description and he does so beautifully. Whether it's Nico bringing "her big white ass almost to the top of my dog and bans herself down. Up and then down. Riding her guts tight around the length of me," or how "[t]hey wanted Emily Dickinson naked in high heels with one foot on the floor and the other up on her desk, bent over and running a quill pen up the crack of her butt," the description was done with an in-your-face, punk-rock style.

Nothing too gritty for Palahniuk, it seems. So I'm torn: Is this a good book or a bad one? It's neither, really. It's just a book worth the read.

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