Citizen Reviews: Pygmy

Intrepid customer reviewer Ben Paulson is back with his reaction to Chuck “Fight Club” Palahniuk’s latest novel.

Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk
I am as uncomfortable talking about Pygmy as I was to start reading it. Surprisingly, that’s not a bad thing. Chuck Palahniuk’s tenth novel, Pygmy, is the story of a mysterious terrorist sleeper cell aimed at infiltrating the heart of the Midwest, disguised as foreign exchange students and prepared to wreak havoc upon our nation. The novel is composed of dispatches sent from the main character, known only as Pygmy, to his totalitarian government headquarters in an unknown enemy territory. Garbed in a shirt that reads “Property of Jesus,” Pygmy must navigate the politics of American schools, churches, social groups and family circles with the aim of executing his insidious mission. He is armed only with his intellect, a handy book of quotations from the likes of Hitler, Mao and Stalin–and an admirable knowledge of lethal hand-to-hand combat. Through this character, Palahniuk pits the pinnacle of totalitarian training and ideology against the most average embodiments of American vice, creating a comedy that is both wildly entertaining and challengingly removed.

Pygmy’s fragmented language and syntax may frustrate some readers at the outset, but Palahniuk uses this imaginative framework to create a very literal, if fumbled and occasionally caustic, understanding of our surroundings. As I negotiated the corpulent, apathetic American landscape, I was forced to reconcile the fact that Pygmy’s intolerance of America is not entirely wrong with the nagging doubts that it isn’t entirely right either. Pygmy is a scathing satirical post-mortem of our over-drugged, over-sexed, over-indulgent culture. Palahniuk hits uncomfortably close to home and then waits for you to start laughing. And I begrudgingly must admit that I was laughing all along.

Ben Paulson lives in St. Paul, where he obsesses about books, zombies and breakfasts.