This is an unedited book review that was originally published in August 2018. As such, it was housed on an archival page. Therefore, it is unedited, and just put here.
I saw the movie of this novel when it came out. I didn’t really understand it at the time. I went back recently and read the novel. “Choke” by Chuck Palahniuk is a strong psychological novel about sex addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, and the length a child will go to help his mother get the care that she needs. Palahniuk creates compelling characters, and shifts from third person, first person, and other elements of narration within this book. You know exactly what style this is if you have read or even seen the movie “Fight Club”. This is not as action packed, but it has a lot of layers that are going to stun you, especially if you’re a bit on the conservative side.
The main character in “Choke” goes around town choking. He fakes his choking, and someone saves him. He becomes their friend, for a time. He gets money for this, and he uses that to help his aging mother in a retirement home, as her health declines. He’s also a sex addicted individual. His full time job is working at a colonial reproduction town. His friend likes collecting rocks, and you are treated to narration of daily life, as well as childhood wonderings, and experiences. Victor (our main character), is not a likable character, citing that he is doing what Jesus would not. Along the way, he disrupts a lot of his own life, and focuses on a lot of elements that are nothing short of despicable. He’s a serious antihero.
Through the story a lot of the book features childhood memories of a small boy and his mom. Going around the country, running from the law. The kid thinks he’s with his biological mother, and yet he’s actually with someone that has kidnapped him. This is revealed slowly, turning the screw every other chapter. A lot of elements are told through the conversations that the mother has with her son.
This hit me hard, as my mom would do the same to me. Telling me stories, old wives tales, and so much more on our epic road trips that occurred on a daily basis. You see, when I was a teenager, my mom worked in Santa Monica and we lived in Santa Clarita. It’s roughly 40 miles north of Los Angeles, and the trek at rush hour would take no less than 2 to 3 hours to get through. That meant that I didn’t get to see home until 9 pm or so. It was a rough time. But those conversations that we had mirror some of the things found in Palahniuk’s work here. Suffice to say, the character deviates from my own life as he’s a victim of intense abuse, as he’s kidnapped.
There’s a juxtaposition at play here. Between childhood abuse, and adult situations that Victor finds himself in. This includes having to roleplay a rape, in which he’s constantly told how to do it, and not do it, as well as ruining a woman’s bedroom as a result. There’s a lot of metaphor in this book, and if you can get past the overt sexually explicit elements, you’ll find Palahniuk’s best writing is within crafting hard hitting emotional disconnections.
Palahniuk features a great deal of support group issues. Victor goes to these places and meets other women, he has a regular sex partner, he’s compulsive, he’s at strip clubs, he is going through life trying to find a way to calm the abuse cycle that was found in his head. Meanwhile, his friend Denny is a compulsive rock collector. It’s getting insane. Through the novels elements, you are treated to a lot of medical jargon, psychological elements, and a focus on Victor trying to come to terms with addiction, find a cure, and figure out why he cannot sleep with his mother’s doctor, even though she wants him and he wants to as well. There’s a lot of elements that are nothing short of pornographic at times. It’s a tough book to read if you’re not used to Palahniuk’s use of rhetoric. The support elements here feel like “Fight Club” turned to 11. It drives the point home that we’re dealing with a sick person, but it also allows for redemption, though it never happens.
I will say that the 12 steps work for people. I miss my friend in Los Angeles sometimes, she was in a 12 step program. She told me to go with her, but I never did. There are times where I can hear her voice in what Palahniuk writes about addiction and support elements. I understand her more now than I did at the time. I sometimes wonder what she’s doing, but then again, it’s best to just let the past go sometimes. Whatever the case is, I liked the continuity of the support groups, and the descriptions of these placements.
I give this book 3 out of 5. Chuck Palahniuk is a great writer, don’t get me wrong. But the way the story plays out, the deep conversations, the sexual sickness, and the pacing slowed me down a lot. There were moments where the shocking narrative turned unbelievable, then back to a real world. Then there are elements where you are taken out of the story with brutality, and sickness. Concentrating on dead things to keep an erection? I guess. It’s different than the movie, that’s for sure. It’s a solid read, but I felt turned off by some of the elements that cut deep. Maybe it hit home often, maybe it’s just too raw?
I don’t know. I did appreciate the author’s words on the book in the back, and a quick interview that was found. Palahniuk’s stellar in crafting characters with deep flaws, and this is a great one. However, it’s not going to be for everyone, in fact, most won’t get past the constant flow of pornographic, and raw imagery that is presented. Then again, that’s what Palahniuk does. He cuts you, then rubs salt in it, and that’s it.
You can buy “Choke” by Chuck Palahniuk by clicking here, via amazon online.