Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Pygmy, Chuck Palahniuk's latest novel, is quite different from any of his other novels thus far, despite the graphic nature which is found in most of his works. I read Pygmy on audio tape which might hint towards my vague understanding of the novel and my disconnection with it.
Reading from Wikipedia, Pygmy is an epistolary novel, which means that it is a novel written as a series of documents. Each chapter is an account of Agent 67, nicknamed Pygmy, on his account of his visit to the United States. Pygmy is a nickname given to our protagonist and narrator because of his small size. He is an exchange student from a totalitarian homeland ("a mash-up of North Korea, Cuba, communist-era China, and Nazi-era Germany"). He travels to the midwest to live with a host family to carry out his mission for his homeland: some sort of terrorist attack.
Pygmy was taken from his family at an early age and was trained (and brainwashed) with a group of young boys like himself, hence his nickname Agent 67. These boys are trained to fight for their homeland, and these boys are sent off to countries to provoke war and terrorist attacks in the name of their country. In the beginning of the novel, you can tell Pygmy's brainwashing and connection to his country. He constantly repeats totalitarian quotations to justify his actions, something he must have learned in training.
Palahniuk is famous for using repetition in his works. In Pygmy, Palahniuk uses totalitarian quotations, as noted above, and the introductory beginnings of chapters. At the beginning of each chapter, Pygmy will document certain things about his location, purpose, people there, etc. So, it will sound something like, "Location: redacted. Mass of people on bus: redacted. Date: redacted." Everything is redacted, hence Palahniuk's repetiton for this book.
As aforementioned, each chapter is like a document that Pygmy uses to document his accounts in the United States. I think it's a clever way to structure a book. Since Pygmy isn't really big on description, it helps give the reader of sense of setting and other necessary details that aren't given in his narrative.
Also, the novel is a bit hard to understand since Pygmy's narrative is in broken English. It is a bit hard to get familiar with and used to, almost like you're reading A Clockwork Orange. But you do get used to it after a while.
What else is strange is the names in the book. Pygmy nicknames everybody something strange. For instance, he has two host siblings in his family, Cat Sister and Pig Dog Brother. Kind of creative. His host parents are Cow Father and Chicken Mother, attributing to their size and behavior. I like how Pygmy describes our overindulgence in things like food, especially when in comparison with the nickname of his host father.
Basically, the novel takes on a strange plot. Pygmy comes to the US and is immediately handed a Jesus t-shirt and an American flag. Hilarious. Then, he gets to know his host family. He goes into Walmart and tries to purchase an assault rifle which causes quite a stir. At Walmart, he catches his host brother being picked on by a kid named Trevor. Pygmy takes it upon himself to fight back against Trevor, so he brings him into the bathroom and beats and rapes him. Horrifying. Trevor then threatens to hurt Pygmy, but Pygmy is not scared of that happening.
Meanwhile, Pygmy is attracted to Cat Sister and they have quite a flirtatious relationship. Cat Sister actually makes Pygmy feel human, eventually leading to his transition at the end of the book where he decides not to go through with the terrorist attack and betray his home country.
Pygmy is decided to be adopted by the host family which makes sexual encounters between Pygmy and Cat Sister to become awkward. What else is strange is Chicken Mother's addiction to pleasing herself. She has toys all around the house and hoards batteries. It's very strange. Thus, Cat Sister takes it upon herself to steal office supplies from her father's work, thinking she's a spy. This is how she tries to get the batteries back.
Pygmy starts to question his motives and intentions in the country when he stops a school shooting and becomes an instant hero. The final turning point where he abandons that motive is at the end when he also stops another shooting: Trevor realizes his homosexuality after Pygmy's encounter with him, he tries to hook up with him and is denied, so he murders students at a UN Conference. Pygmy stops the attack and once again becomes a hero. Pygmy finally learns human emotions.
This novel was really bizarre. It was hard to get into and to follow since its strange style, but that also makes it unique. Palahniuk never fails to keep surprising me with how grotesque he can be. But, he is quite creative and has an imagination that is insane. This isn't my favorite book of his, but it's still worth talking about.
What do you think of Pygmy?