‘Choke’ by Chuck Palahniuk

Choke

Fiction – paperback; Vintage; 293 pages; 2002.

To be honest, I bought Chuck Palahniuk‘s Choke on the strength of the opening line: “If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.” This wry tone lasts throughout the entire novel, which is at times laugh-out-loud funny, though the humour is about as black as it comes.

There’s a lot of explicit sex in it, which isn’t surprising given that the main character, Victor Mancini, is a recovering sex addict.

But there’s more to the story than being naughty in broom cupboards, because Victor, who works in a bizarre 18th century theme park, is struggling to pay for his mother’s full-time medical care. She has Alzheimer’s and is rotting away in an institution at the ripe old age of 60 and keeps hinting at her son’s mysterious parentage.

To raise money for her upkeep, Victor devises a complicated scheme in which he pretends to choke on a piece of food in a restaurant in the belief that whoever “saves him” will provide money on a regular basis because they now feel responsible for his future. He does this so regularly, notching up a string of benefactors, that he begins to run out of eateries to choke in.

This comic novel, in the same tone as Ted Heller’s Slab Rat, is an interesting exposé on the problems and excesses of modern day life in America. It’s peppered with off-the-wall characters and off-the-wall moments; these characters seem to have stepped off the set of the Jerry Springer show. I kept turning the pages to see what outrageous thing would happen next. It is a wonderful piece of escapism.

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2 thoughts on “‘Choke’ by Chuck Palahniuk

  1. To be honest Choke was the first and last novel I have read by Palahniuk. I felt its appetite for cynicism so enormous to render it almost unreadable. I know he has a large fanbase but I just couldn’t tolerate his charmless “hey dude” generation X characters. Palahniuk’s themes of the cultural and spirtitual decay, the death of community and the commodification of American life, etc. etc. seemed old news to me. I would like to know if he is capable of writing a genuinely heartfelt human portrait rather than the entirely one-dimensional and representational characters in this book. Furthermore, his visceral and shocking accounts of mental illness are rather undermined by Palahniuk’s deep cynicism. Sorry. Anyway, enjoying your blog, mooching around the archives!

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  2. Jamesewan, thanks for the comment. Try reading Diary — I think this will prove that the author can write a genuine heartfelt human portrait — the main character, a poorly paid waitress, is very sympathetically drawn. This is probably my favourite Palahniuk novel. I appreciate that his books all have a cynical edge, but I like what he does with narrative and structure. He really plays around with the novel, and there’s not many other authors out there brave enough to try this.

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