PYGMY by Chuck Palahniuk

Book Quote:

“…entire effort United State to incite desire, inflict want, inspire demand. Every today American vermin offered too many objects for acquire. Offered too numerous formula for succeed. Too vast selection religion, vocation, lifestyle. No ever able make choice. Resulting outcome no happiness, forever striving pursuit next objective. Next possession or experience or reproductive mate.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Mike Frechette (JUN 06, 2009)

I Begins here review of literary object Pygmy, product American capitalist publishing machine, ISBN 978-0-385-52634-0, subversive author Chuck Palahniuk. Mission to summarize, analyze, and assess.


If you could not appreciate this broken, propaganda-laden English for over two-hundred pages, then Palahniuk’s new novel might seem tedious to you rather than engaging. For more willing readers, though, Palahniuk rewards with thematic richness, an enticing plot, and plenty of laughter in his latest dark comedy. Foreign exchange students from an unnamed oppressive socialist regime have arrived in an unnamed midsized Midwestern city to create chaos in America’s virtuous heartland. Armed with years of political indoctrination and martial arts tactics, their mission – Operation Havoc – consists of progressing to the National Science Fair in Washington D.C. where they will commit a massive act of biological terrorism. The story is narrated by of one of the operatives himself – dubbed Pygmy by his ignorant American peers – all the while pointing a painfully truthful finger at some of the ugliest aspects of American culture and society.


Those familiar with Palahniuk’s work will quickly realize that Pygmy in no way constitutes a departure from earlier novels such as Fight Club. An angry protagonist reacts aggressively and excessively to a society that reduces people to mere consumers. Like Fight Club, Pygmy takes aim at capitalism, this time through the eyes of an outsider who holds America responsible for the world’s injustices. To Pygmy and his comrades, America runs on desire, transforming everything into a commodity to be possessed – from women to religion. At the school dance – the “student mating ritual” – Pygmy notices the “females ranked along opposite wall,” like products on a Wal-Mart shelf. At church – the “religion propaganda distribution outlet” – he speculates on the history of the building’s capitalist functions: “first sell foodstuff, next then same structure sell battered furnitures, next now born as gymnasium club, next broker flea markets, only at final end of life…sell religions.” Religious merchandising and the language of ownership confront and register with Pygmy almost as soon as he steps off the plane, receiving a t-shirt from his host family that says “Property of Jesus.”


Such a perspective, while humorously seductive, must nevertheless provoke only uneasy laughter from readers, even those most critical of the excess of American life. Though truthful, Pygmy’s worldview – itself propaganda – justifies in his mind an indisputably evil act of mass murder. What’s really at issue in this novel, therefore, is not so much the troubling intersection of religion and capitalism as the danger and inescapability of ideology itself. Opposing ideologies spar throughout the story – capitalism versus socialism, self versus society, democracy versus authoritarianism – each turning the other into a corrupting falsehood, an impostor of the truth. Pygmy, victimized and brainwashed by a brutal socialist regime, represents an opportunity for his host family, the Cedars, to further spread the gospel of Americana: “We’ll make an American out of you.” On the other hand, Pygmy sees his host family – the overweight father, sexually repressed mother, ADD-ridden teenage son, and jaded, deceptive teenage daughter – as a classic product of the “degenerate American snake nest.” In this regard, the novel seems to offer just two inadequate ideological choices. Readers feel forced to accept the reprehensible America of this novel as the only viable option compared to the fatalism of Pygmy’s homeland where the individual self means nothing in the face of the all-powerful state. Such restriction inevitably creates feelings of discomfort and despair and leaves the reader wondering if, by the end, Palahniuk will show us a middle way.


Palahniuk’s novels have been criticized as gratuitously graphic and disturbingly twisted, meant to generate attention by simply shocking a young audience all too willing to be manipulated. No exception to this characterization, Pygmy will certainly further reinforce this chorus of naysayers. Peppered with scenes of violently graphic sexuality, Pygmy could turn the stomach of even the most desensitized reader. If such criticism is justified, though, then therein lay the novel’s most brilliant irony, calling attention to itself as just another product in the capitalist scheme.

Suffice it to say, Palahniuk is a smart writer but understandably cannot be appreciated by everyone. However, he does have a cultish following, and his biggest fans will certainly not be disappointed by this newest publication. He presents complex, weighty ideas in a novel that creates laughter and keeps the reader turning the page to find out what happens next, all the while maintaining a bizarre writing style. There’s even some romance – bordering on incest, of course (this is Palahniuk, after all).

Ends here review of literary object Pygmy. Hope induced consumer to purchase product, generate capital for individual author and publishing company.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 199 readers
PUBLISHER: Doubleday (May 5, 2009)
REVIEWER: Mike Frechette
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Chuck Palahniuk
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our reviews of HAUNTED, DIARY, LULLABY

Also, if you like this, try:

THE RAINBOW SINGER by Simon Kerr

LUDMILLIA’S BROKEN ENGLISH by D.B.C. Pierre

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June 6, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Contemporary, Humorous, Unique Narrative

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