Palahniuk’s Choke Humorous, Neurotic and Original
In his book Choke, Chuck Palahniuk renders chaos beautifully, as seen in his cult classic novel, Fight Club. There are many similarities, which are the traits most often seen in all of his earlier work, things like addiction, self-help and worth, salvation, and chaotic childhoods are usually contained in every character that is encountered. Palahniuk reveals these painful human conditions with humor and grit. Teetering always on the edge of outrageousness, Choke doesn’t just pack a punch; it packs punch after punch as the reader is spiraled further into the depths of desperation. Palahniuk’s work has always been vital to the times.
Victor Mancini is a medical school dropout. He dropped out to care for his mom who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. As can be expected, this becomes very costly as she is staying in a nursing home with round-the-clock care. He can’t pay for her care on the meager wage he earns working at Colonial Dunsboro, a reenactment museum full of stoners who are punished for deviation from the time period, the eighteenth century. Punishment is banishment, another word for termination, or the stocks, where Victor’s friend Denny spends most of his time locked up.
Most striking is Victor’s sex addiction and what he does for money. Sex is his drive through most of the novel. He does any number of things to partake in sex. He answers ads, walks in on strangers in public restrooms, and cruises sexual addiction recovery workshops. He met his friend Denny at a workshop for sex addicts. In his spare time, he dines at some of the best restaurants in his town and half way through his meal, he deliberately chokes. He is then saved by fellow diners who, in turn send him cards, money, and periodically check in on him because they feel responsible for his life.
In the midst of all this chaos, he meets a woman, the only woman he couldn’t bring himself to have sex with, though she is more than willing. Her name is Dr. Marshall; she is his mother’s doctor, and she has some very strange secrets of her own. As the story goes on, Victor’s mother withers away from not eating. Small tidbits about his paternity are wicked out and the clues point to his birth being divine. He, in turn, becomes obsessed with finding out the truth about his birth.
Choke runs full forced until its timely and appropriate ending. Palahniuk warns readers in the opening lines, “If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.” Palahniuk is a gifted writer with a voice so distinctive that it can never be mistaken and most importantly never be matched. His prose is immediate, tough and kinetic. Choke has a hypnotic quality that is built through reoccurring lines that frame the beginnings and ending of chapters or intense sections. The book is factual in its medical terminology, which allows the reader to feel like they are in the real world, even in the very deepest corners of this novel. While it is a very dark read, if the reader is willing, there are many opportunities to have a laugh.
There is a communal feeling throughout the novel, derived from the nature of interaction and Palahniuk’s use of religious words and phrases. Groups of people – patients in the nursing home, the employees at Colonial Dunsboro, the sex addict meetings, choking in crowded eateries, even at the strip club – allow the book to take on this communal feel. This taps an important theme, salvation. This is not of any religious nature, it is about people: people saving each other and, most often, saving themselves. Through poignant questions and statements about the current state of humans, this novel lifts up even the lowliest of people and hold them in a redeeming light. This draws the reader to a great epiphany and helps answer why people do things the way they do. That message is that everyone, everywhere, just wants to build something of their own. Once again, this is a message that rings through much of Palahniuk’s early work, namely Fight Club. Readers who enjoyed Fight Club are guaranteed to enjoy Choke as much, if not a little more, as he takes the vision he built in Fight Club and amplifies it until it almost explodes.
It is no question that a great many people hold an appreciation for Kurt Vonnegut. Palahniuk shares the same platform, creating a book that is wildly humorous, neurotic and outrageously original. While they share some qualities, there is no need to compare them. Palahniuk inhabits his own genre and there, he creates masterpieces.