Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Original Publication: 2001
Genre: Comedy, Satire, Fiction
#48 on “1,001 Books to Read Before You Die”
The first lines of Choke explain that you won’t love Victor Mancini, and they’re right. Victor is a medical school dropout who may be a sex addict. Anyway, he attends the meetings (and generally winds up in the bathroom, having sex with one of the other twelve-steppers.) His mother is wasting away in an expensive care facility which Victor has to pay for. He does so by supplementing his day job income (he works in a re-enactment museum which forces him to be in character for the 1800’s) by going to fancy restaurants and pretending to choke. A good Samaritan inevitably “rescues” Victor, and he keeps in touch with each one of his savior/victims, writing them sad tales about his problems. They often feel sorry enough for him to send money. The story is punctuated by flashbacks of Victor’s bizarre childhood, which includes his often absent mother breezing in to fill his young mind with conspiracy theories and obscure (and often disgusting) medical factoids.
It’s not that I disliked the character, per se, it’s that he’s a non-entity in his own story, which (perhaps?) is the point Palahniuk is trying to make with him. Victor is an ‘addict’ without explaining his personal compulsion to have indiscriminate sex; a con artist without a satisfactory explanation why the con works (he isn’t charming enough that I bought the con, coming from him); and he’s quirky without ever hitting endearing. It doesn’t strike me, however, that that’s what the author was going for – that is, using the character to illustrate a sociological observation. Victor isn’t absurdly quirky enough that he pulls off a commentary on futility or nihilism, or charming enough that you care about what happens to him, or why. Regardless of the author’s overall intent for Victor, he is written poorly/vaguely enough that he falls flat as both a catalyst for social commentary and as a human being.
That said, the situations Victor finds himself in are often very funny, and the book was a fun read. I didn’t like it as well as any of the several others I’ve read by Chuck Palahniuk. It seemed a little forced, as a story, in comparison. Choke is a good read for already-fans of Palahniuk’s work, but it won’t make you fall in love with him as a writer. Chuck Palahniuk has subsequently proven that he can do better than Choke. For a first-time C.P. reader, I’d recommend Lullaby.
I am curious to see the movie which came out based on Choke several years ago, starring Sam Rockwell as Victor. The right actor could give Victor the charm he needs to push this from an okay story to a pretty good one.
Fun Fact: Most of the research done for this book was conducted with total strangers at gyms and sex-addiction groups, according to an interview with the author.
Bother if: You’re familiar with the author’s work and already a fan, or if you are a fan of black comedy.
Don’t bother if: You’re bothered by (very) sexually explicit writing.