Victor Mancini, a medical-school dropout, is an antihero for our deranged times. Needing to pay elder care for his mother, Victor has devised an ingenious scam: he pretends to choke on pieces of food while dining in upscale restaurants. He then allows himself to be “saved” by fellow patrons who, feeling responsible for Victor’s life, go on to send checks to support him. When he’s not pulling this stunt, Victor cruises sexual addiction recovery workshops for action, visits his addled mom, and spends his days working at a colonial theme park.
I scored Choke for a great deal in my favorite LA bookstore. This was my introduction to Chuck Palahniuk’s work, though I’ve definitely heard of him before – like any other member of my generation, I’ve seen the Fight Club movie approximately one billion times. While I know it’s not kablamo to judge an author’s work by a film adaptation; I perceived a lot of thematic similarities between that film and this book. Anarchism, sex, apathy/disgust for commercialism and society, and an anithero protagonist who, underneath everything, just wants to be loved…you feel me.
Palahniuk writes in an interesting syntax – it takes some getting used to, but once you do, it’s pretty awesome. He has a daring, nuanced writing style with prose that reads like lyrics to a song. The characters, however, feel a little too real to be truly conceivable. The main vibe I took away was that everyone is “trapped” in one way or another. In various (and colorful) ways, everyone’s stuck within some oppressive system – be it a hospital, a shitty dead-end job, crippling bills – they all emanate an electrically energy that shivers between desperation and resignation. Oh, and Victor fakes death on the nightly to pay his mom’s medical bills.
The biggest trap of all in this tale is the good ‘ole fashioned psychological prison of addiction. Everyone is addicted to something – for Victor it’s sex, for his BFF Denny it’s rock collecting, for his mom Ida it was nihilistic demonstration (she fancy). It doesn’t feel too far of a stretch to suspect this conveys some social commentary on Palahniuk’s part….after all, aren’t we all just trying to make sense of this world, or numb ourselves from it, or both? In this way I felt pretty numb myself, both in reading the book and after I finished, and probably writing this now. I wonder if this is how real-life addicts feel between fixes. I guess I’m addicted to reading after all – since now I’m jonesing for a lil’ pick-me-up to get me through this comedown (maybe some YA??).
All in all while this was not my favorite type of read, I found it very thought-provoking. The ballsy twist at the end makes it worth finishing too :-). I highly recommend it if you love contemporary fiction. This was my first Palahniuk work but won’t be last; I’m interested to dig into his other stuff and see what feels may come. Any suggestions, Palahniuk fans?