“Choke” is a term often used to describe someone who comes up short. In describing Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk (and to quote a phrase used throughout the book), “choke” isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.
Palahniuk seems to be somewhat of a counterculture hero (at least according to some folks I’ve heard talk about him), whose most famous book (I think) is Fight Club (a movie a saw and just really didn’t get); he clearly knows how to write for shock value about uncomfortable and disturbing situations.
I read a blurb about Choke and decided to give it a shot. When all was said and done, I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed. I didn’t like the main character/narrator/”protagonist”, Victor Mancini; he’s just flat out unlikeable, although that might be the point. The story follows him around with flashbacks to his childhood, as he deals with a strange mother, his own sexual addiction, and some other strange characters that fill out the story. His struggle to find out who he really is becomes the reader’s struggle. And I just didn’t think it was a worthwhile struggle.
The main storyline, or so I was lead to believe by the commentary that induced me into trying this book, was supposed to be Mancini’s scam of pretending to choke in restaurants, getting saved by a good samaritan, and having that person feel a sense of responsibility for Mancini, sending him money on his birthday and otherwise helping him out. But that really was a small thread of the book. The bulk of the book was spent on his so-called sexual addition (complete with — earmuffs, youngsters — more talk of his “dog” and “white soldiers” than I felt like dealing with) and his mother, who was apparently in the final stages of Alzheimer’s while in a nursing home, and who was giving him reason to question who he thought he was.
I’ll give Palahniuk credit for sort of tying things together at the end. It wasn’t perfect, but considering how low the bar had dropped by the time I was two-thirds of the way into the book, he should get a medal for not making me want to burn the thing when I was through with it. And I guess I shouldn’t hold Palahniuk responsible for my own pre-conceived notions about what the book would be like, which were based on other people’s subjective opinions. In fact, Palahniuk starts the book with the following:
If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.
After a couple pages, you won’t want to be here. So forget it. Go away. Get out while you’re still in one piece.
Maybe I should have listened. Although I made the mistake of thinking that that the narrator was going to shock or disturb me in some rewarding way, rather than thinking he was going to disappoint me with his story and some of his crude sexual references.