May 2009 Discussion: Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk
The selection for this month is Pygmy, by none other than our very own Chuck Palahniuk. Most of you will know what the premise of the book is, but for those that don't, I've taken liberty to thief a synopsis from Amazon:
Palahniuk's 10th novel (after Snuff) is a potent if cartoonish cultural satire that succeeds despite its stridently confounding prose. A gang of adolescent terrorists trained by an unspecified totalitarian state (the boys and girls are guided by quotations attributed to Marx, Hitler, Augusto Pinochet, Idi Amin, etc.) infiltrate America as foreign exchange students. Their mission: to bring the nation to its knees through Operation Havoc, an act of mass destruction disguised as a science project. Narrated by skinny 13-year-old Pgymy, the propulsive plot deconstructs American fixtures, among them church (religion propaganda distribution outlet), spelling bees (forced battle to list English alphabet letters) and TV news reporters (Horde scavenger feast at overflowing anus of world history), before moving on to a Columbine-like shooting spree by a closeted kid who has fallen in love with the teenage terrorist who raped him in a shopping mall bathroom. Decoding Palahniuk's characteristically scathing observations is a challenge, as Pygmy's narrative voice is unbound by rules of grammar or structure (a typical sentence: Host father mount altar so stance beside bin empty of water), but perseverance is its own perverse reward in this singular, comic accomplishment.
I've come up with a few discussion starters, but feel free to post anything else related to the book that you'd like to talk about.
-Of course, the broken English prose is the first thing that stands out to the reader. What did you think of it? Was it unnecessary? Completely necessary?
-The book is a portrayal of American society through the lens of someone with completely different ideals. Do you think that this contributed to the illumination of American shortcomings, or did you think it was merely a biased viewpoint that added to the comicality of the book? What about the view of the terrorist state portrayed through the book?
-There is a phrase, 'You are a product of your environment'. Pygmy is a great example of this. He was conditioned by his government to hate America, told that America was the catalyst for evil, and that the world would be at peace once America had been dethroned. All the operatives were told that Americans had murdered their parents. At what point did Pygmy begin to sympathize with America, and abandon the ideals he had been conditioned by since the age of four? What do you think caused this?
-At the end of the book, Pygmy planned to detonate the experiment, and warned Cat sister to vacate. When the bomb was set off, the money was untainted. Do you think he knew all along that he wouldn't commit the atrocity, or that he just had a last minute change of heart? Or that he forgot? Is there any symbolism attached to the ending of the book?
Again, please bring up any other discussion topics that you would like to talk about.
Step back. Evaluate. Recognize.