Dallas' Book Report: Choke by Chuck Palahniuk (2001)

Oh, Chuck Palahniuk! There is just so much wrong with your work that I cannot help but read more of it. While nothing will ever capture that lightning-in-a-bottle that is Fight Club, some do come close. One of those is the novel, Choke, which has been called by other literary critics as “Fight Club for sex addicts.” Yes and no. Fight Club has a grander scope of what the narrator is trying to achieve. Where the narrator in Fight Club starts off as a loser and becomes an iconic—albeit mentally deranged—leader of a violent movement. Choke is about a depressed, crazy man who starts off a loser and ends as one. But at least this loser has a nonviolent means of finding purpose at the end. 

Shock and awe! A Palanihuk novel that doesn't go horribly wrong? Make no mistake, Choke is a trainwreck, complete with all of the transgressive fiction that the author has become (in)famous for. But amidst all of the satire, the sex, and chiding of modern society, Choke is surprisingly optimistic. 

So what is the story about? Victor Mancini—a failed medical student—makes his living conning people at restaurants as a choking victim; gets his kicks cruising sex addiction group therapy sessions to find women to have casual sex with. Oh, and he also works part-time at a historical reenactment park playing a Colonial American. Neat. But on the flip side, his mother is also wasting away due to Alzheimer's. Sad. But Victor doesn't care, because Victor is a bad boy and does what he wants when he wants! But in reality, Victor is a sensitive soul who only does the seedy things in life to avoid the pain he feels. 

Victor Mancini is another interesting character in the Palahniuk pantheon who falls prey to negative male stereotypes. But where other characters in the author's novels act out in violent ways, Victor is just more of a sex-addicted loser who wants to lash out. But lacks the clear drive or motive to do so. Victor is rudderless. And this is where the novel biggest cloud also has its most substantial silver lining. While the writing is fast-paced, tight, and funny, Choke lacks the viscera and vigor that many of Palanihuk's other books have. And while seeing the trainwreck that Victor Mancini's life is engaging to a degree, there is one word that describes Choke better than anything else: repetitive. For a novel that is well over two-hundred and twenty pages long, Choke would have worked better as a novella cut in half. How often can we read about sex in a public place, conning a business, visiting a decaying mother, and a part-time job? Rinse and repeat. For me, my patience wore thin. 

But the strongest thing—the silver lining—about Choke is how it ties all of its loose ends together. And presents a story about a hopeless addict/con-man who finds his place in the world. Instead of letting his disorder take control of him as the lead in Fight Club, Victor finds other hopeless losers like himself and builds a community. Talk about a warped family, but a family nonetheless. 


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