Pygmy, as the main character is known, is an exchange student from a fictional country (definitely one under a totalitarian regime of some sort), who comes to the USA to live with a host family and to execute a terrorist attack. It’s an epistolary novel, consisting entirely of reports written by Pygmy.
I really didn’t like Pygmy. I think it’s the first book Palahniuk’s ever written which I’d definitely not recommend to people. I’m very disappointed.
The background things are very well imagined – the way the country works, the way the children are educated etc. – it’s an amazingly scary dystopia. But unfortunately, that’s not the story Palahniuk is telling, although it’s the story I wanted to hear about.
Instead what we get to read mostly about is Pygmy’s life in the US, which is, actually, for all its terrorist scheming, pretty boring.
Plus, it was just really unnerving to read Pygmy’s garbled English. There are two things that kept me unwilling to deal with it:
First, I didn’t get why he’d write the reports in English. If it was for the people in his country, why not write it in his mother tongue. If it was for himself only, why not write it in his mother tongue? No, he writes the reports in probably the worst English ever although he could risk discovery if somebody in the US ever saw those reports.
And secondly, his English never got better. Not one little bit. Now, I’ve been an exchange student myself and even though I was in Brazil and not in an English-speaking country, my English got better. Pygmy’s not stupid and he spends months in the US and there is not one word that gets a little better. It’s so very frustrating.
[Also, on a minor sidenote: Thanks for ruining the reputation of exchange students. ;)]
Well, apart from that, right away, in the first (or was it the second?) chapter, there is a very, very gruesome rape scene, which to me didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story. Why would Pygmy rape a bully of his host brother (who he has only contempt for anyway) and risk exposure like that?
Then it turns out that the host mother not only hosts Pygmy but also Sex Toy Parties (the new Tupper Ware Parties!) and it felt like Palahniuk wanted me to gasp in shock. But honestly, I didn’t really care. I just thought it weird that she’d walk around with a dildo inside of her all day. That’s not how to use them, you know?
In any case, I made it through the book, but I have to admit that it was a struggle and far from Palahniuk’s usual fluidity. I’d skip this book, unless you’re a huge, HUGE Palahniuk fan. But then, you’ll probably have already read it.