Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk

(pb; 2001)

From the back cover:

"Victor Mancini's a medical school dropout with a problem. He needs to pay for elder care for his mother, who's got Alzheimer's. So he comes up with the perfect scam: pretending to choke in upscale restaurants and getting 'saved' by fellow diners, who, feeling responsible for Victor's life, offer him financial support.

"Meanwhile, he cruises sexual addiction recovery workshops and spends his days working at Colonial Dunsboro, where his stoner colleagues are sentenced to the stocks for any deviation from the colonial lifestyle. Oh, yeah, and he's desperate to find the truth of his paternity, which his addled mother suggests may be divine."

Review:

This is one of Palahniuk's finer novels, joining the ranks of Fight Club, Lullaby, Rant and Snuff.

The jigsaw-puzzle, factoid-laden structure is everpresent in any Palahniuk work, but the happenings of Choke, shown through the first-person POV of Victor Mancini, are less jigsaw-y and factoid-oriented. Rather, the focus is on Victor's dysfunctional, falling-apart life and his strange, crazy pseudo-family -- there's Denny, Victor's slovenly, rock-collecting, sex-addict best friend; there's Ida Mancini, Victor's Alzheimer's-afflicted, crazy jailbird mother, who doesn't even recognize him anymore; there's Dr. Paige Marshall, Ida Mancini's doctor, who says she can help Ida get better, if only Victor will have sex with her (the doctor, not his mother); and there's Cherry Daiquiri (aka, Beth), a stripper, Denny's girlfriend-of-sorts.

All of these characters figure prominently into Victor trying to push through the fourth step of his twelve-step Sexaholic Recovery program (listing and righting all of own's past sins, if possible), and his increasingly desperate attempts to pay for his mother's nursing-home care.

Thematically, this shares recognizable elements with Fight Club, and most of other Palahniuk's works. There's a mention of masturbating near a pool intake valve (which brings to mind the pool masturbation scene of Saint Gut-Free in Haunted).

The main thing that sets Choke apart from most other Palahniuk novels (aside from Diary and Snuff) is how warm (emotionally-speaking) and relatable Victor Mancini is. Less nihlistic than Tyler Durden (Ida Mancini ably fills that Palahniuk-recurrent role) and other like-minded Palahniukian characters, he's just a normal person -- like most of us -- trying to muddle his way through life as smartly as possible, with a minimum of fuss.

Great, fast read. Check it out.

Choke, the film, is set for a September 26, 2008 theatrical release. Sam Rockwell plays Victor Mancini. Anjelica Huston plays Ida Mancini. Kelly Macdonald plays Paige Marshall. Brad William Henke plays Denny. Bijou Phillips plays Ursula. Jonah Bobo plays "Young Victor" (Victor as a boy).

Clark Gregg (who also directed and wrote the screenplay for the film) plays Lord High Charlie.

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