Monday, May 11, 2009

Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk

(hb; 2009)

From the inside flap

" 'Begins here first account of operative me, agent number 67 on arrival Midwestern American airport greater [blacked out] area. Flight [blacked out]. Date [blacked out]. Priority mission top success to complete. Code name: Operation Havoc.' "

Thus speaks Pygmy, one of a handful of young adults from a totalitarian state sent to the United States, disguised as exchange students, to live with typical American families and blend in, all the while planning an unspecified act of massive terrorism. Palahniuk depicts Midwestern life through the eyes of this thoroughly indoctrinated little killer, who hates us with a passion, in this cunning double-edged satire of an American xenophobia that might, in fact, be completely justified. For Pygmy and his fellow operatives are cooking up something big, something truly awful, that will bring this big dumb country and its fat dumb inhabitants to their knees.

"It's a romance. And a comedy."


Palahniuk, for the most part, "nails it" with his as-usual black humored, subversive work about the perils of sending a teenager to do an adult's work. The first-person POV of Agent 67, aka Pygmy, takes some getting used to -- Pygmy speaks in fragmented English, with strange-but-fitting nicknames for those around him. If you, the reader, can get past the first few adjustment-period chapters, then you're in for a hilarious tale of how even an oblivious country, via mixed-media and sheer numbers, can protect itself.

My only nit with Pygmy is that some of the flashback chapters on Pygmy's training seemed unnecessary, and that some of the present-time descriptions were overly long. Palahniuk established most of the characters and by-now-familiar situations earlier in the novel, so a few of the lengthier, later descriptions in this otherwise short novel seemed superfluous.

Palahniuk, even at his book-chattiest, is still focused, when compared to other writers, so it's a minor nit at worst. Great, Palahniuk-consistent dovetailing of all the elements and characters at the end, with a finish that's not unexpected, but makes still makes sense in a satisfying way. Check it out.

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