Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk © 2001, Anchor

I knew Chuck Palahniuk was pretty famous, but I’d never read him. Found a relatively cheap audio version of this book, so I tried it. Glad I did.

Victor Mancini is an awful person, a loveless sex addict who scams people by fake-choking in restaurants. But when you consider Victor’s mother, it’s no wonder he’s screwed up. His mother is in a nursing home, slowly dying, too slowly for Victor, who is paying for her care. There’s the nugget, Victor hasn’t abandoned his mother. He has a morsel of a heart. And he helps out his sex addict friend, Denny. And he brightens the days of addled nursing home residents by pretending to be whoever they mistakenly think he is. And the people who “save” him from fake-choking end up feeling pretty good about themselves. Victor does quite a bit of good, despite trying to be awful. Could that mean he is, somehow, divine?

Yeah, a weird story, quite funny, in a cringe-while-you-laugh way, and endearing, despite all the filth. Hats off to Palahniuk for making that combination work. A bunch of extreme characters stumbling in a humorous way through a sci-fi/supernatural plot—sounds like a Kurt Vonnegut story. Choke is a lot like a Kurt Vonnegut story, and that’s high praise.

Victor tries to become a better person, but falls flat when his past catches up to him. So, Vic doesn’t ultimately change much, but just enough that you have hope for him. That was Palahniuk’s real talent, here, creating a shit-heel you actually care about. This is my kind of book and my kind of writer. Choke is on my permanent bookshelf, and I expect other Palahnuik works to join it.

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