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Pygmy    by Chuck Palahniuk order for
by Chuck Palahniuk
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Begins here report of book of operative me, priority mission top success to complete, of Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk. If you have trouble reading that sentence, you will probably not enjoy this book which is cleverly written, in its entirety, as though it were a report composed by an Asian with an incomplete grasp of the English language.

Pygmy is not the real name of our bloodthirsty hero. He is given this nickname by his host family because he's so small and skinny when he arrives at the airport of an unnamed Midwestern American city as an exchange student from an unnamed totalitarian country. The others in the group of Pygmy's comrades are all referred to by their names, prefaced by the term operative, and include Magda, Tibor, Chernok, Bokara, Oleg and Ling. They are all the same age as Pygmy, which he claims is thirteen.

His host family has nicknames, too, with only the father, Donald Cedar, being named. They are 'vast breathing cow' or 'cow father', 'chicken mother', 'pig dog brother' and 'cat sister.' Pygmy's descriptive nicknames of the other characters in the book are only exceeded by his descriptions of things that he's never seen before. On his first trip to a large store, or 'product distribution facility', he describes an automatic door as 'magic quiet door go sideways, disappear inside wall to open path from outside.' He goes on to describe the products for sale.

'For official record, squirrel maze of retail distribution center puzzle of competition warring objects, all improved, all package within fire colors. Area divided into walls constructed from objects, all tinted color so grab eye. All object printed: Love me. Look me. Million speaking objects, begging. Crown American consumer with power of king, to rescue choose and give home or abandon here for expire. Word label blow sharp into ear, loud into eye. Pander hand to take. Dying objects. All here, useful life winding down in clock ticks. Dying objects.'

His descriptions seem to be emotionless until he becomes upset, at which time he thinks violent thoughts. His group of young operatives has been trained since the age of four and sent to America to carry out Operation Havoc which will kill vast numbers of people including the entire federal government. We learn through flashbacks just enough about the teenagers' upbringing to understand the extent of their brainwashing. They believe thoroughly that the U.S. has done evil deeds, including murdering their own parents.

I believe the book would offend many people with its depictions of American teenagers, high schools, religion, and sexual mores. It makes gleeful fun of so much that we tend to take too seriously. There are some extremely violent sections that are made somewhat easier to read by the convoluted language, and the language itself is sometimes confusing enough that the reader isn't quite sure what is going on. That said, this is a really funny book that I enjoyed reading.

After struggling through the first few chapters, I found it easier to understand what Pygmy was saying most of the time, or at least often enough that I could follow the story. There were subtleties that I didn't appreciate until I was well into the book, but figuring them out made the story even funnier. I recommend Pygmy to anyone with an open mind, a love of humor, and a liking for solving puzzles. Just have fun and try not to take it too seriously.

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