How could the words ‘Chuck Palahniuk’ combined with the word Pygmy not get the ol’ juices flowing, eh? I have not heard word one about this book, didn’t even know it was coming when this morning my boss handed me a galley’s copy she’d received. Surprised and still on the vertical climb toward caffeinated approximation of awareness, the words on the cover jumbled for a second, Palahniuk being the first thing that became clear and immediately setting comprehension of the rest back with a riveting waft of excitement – A NEW PALAHNIUK!!! In another moment however the title became clear and a second, possibly more intense burst of interest lifted me – Palahniuk and little people??? Good god, I would have blown the Pope for a combination like this (would god forgive that?), and now here it was in my hands.
Later on during lunch I sat down and opened the book and began reading. Within moments I was enticed, confused, maybe mildly agitated and totally resolved – I’d read the most difficult book of my life already this year. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’ve been on a lighter kick since then, consuming Irvine Welsh novels* at rapid speed (well, rapid for me) and all kinds of 80s comics – Larry Hama’s original GI JOE run, Fallen Angels, Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men (when they were bad asses living in the Australian Outback, no sign of baldy and his stealth jets and credit cards). Being handed a new book by Mr. Palahniuk would normally be akin to another literary ‘snack’ – I never thought for a second I’d be accepting what may well prove to top Infinite Jest as the most difficult read (difficult does not, herein, mean bad) and after reading the first four chapters of Pygmy I’ve gotta say, ‘Damn, this ain’t gonna be easy.’
Well, Pygmy is not difficult in the same way that something like Infinite Jest is. Clocking in at (tentatively: remember this is a galley and thus everything subject to some modicum of change or revision) 241 pages the book is written entirely from the perspective of a ‘stunted’ secret agent from a totalitarian nation who has come, along with others like him, to infiltrate America and initiate something truly diabolical sounding. Something code named: OPERATION: HAVOC. These agents have accessed the states disguised as foreign exchange students, children, dropped smack dab into the middle of wholesome old Walmart-shopping, Church-going Suburban America. Only when I say the book is written from the foreign Pygmy’s perspective, I need to make it clear that this means the book is actually written in jagged, oft-nonsensical, broken and redundantly cumbersome approximations of English. I don’t want to be a dick and quote directly from a galley, but let’s just say if you read my following reinterpretation of this very paragraph below, you’ll get the idea of how the book is stylistically.
Person of interest, note Pygmy of small one talks, strange and secret person of place which is elsewhere transits diabolical to place here now, America, to host cohabitive unit dwelling of likewise foreign to him, self, agent, begin now fulfilling interloping of ideas formulate in the overall achievement, practice thereof, operation named in code for of Havoc.
Or something like that.
Now, Infinite Jest was long. Long and sometimes bogged down with DFW’s proclivity for acronyms; acronyms that would not be defined until later (often MUCH later) in the book. The cast was huge and there were a lot of defining historical ramifications (Damnit! I still feel like I’m still writing Pygmy-sideways!) that Wallace might have referenced early to define his plot and characters but then took his time to fully extrapolate on for his readers sake. That’s not a complaint, it just often felt like waking up in an alternate dimension and having people talking about places and things that you would have no idea about. But that’s cool. It’s outside the box, and for the most part, as long as it doesn’t feel like the author is trying too hard, I’m all for pushing the limits of narrative structure. But Pygmy (and again, so far not a complaint) is just going to be exhausting to read in that coarse and twisty vernacular.
But, it’ll also probably be worth it.
Only Mr. Palahniuk could get away with this kind of writing. I would love to have been a fly on the wall at the moment his agent or publisher or whoever first sat down after initial reading and voiced their take (rife with concerns I’m guessing, like the guy who signed Mr. Bungle taking the demo to WB so they could see what they’d sunk their money into) on the book. But Palahniuk’s got the numbers, he’s got his crowd of hardcore followers and armchair admirers and as so Pygmy is coming…
Thanks again Chuck!!!
* I’ve almost completed my re-reading of, first time back-to-back-to-back the ‘Trainspotting Trilogy: Trainspotting, Glue, and Porno and I’ll definitely be talking about how great this straight-through reading of the Leith-verse is if you haven’t already done it