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PYGMY by Chuck Palahniuk

PYGMY

By Chuck Palahniuk

Pub Date: May 5th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-385-52634-0
Publisher: Doubleday

A series of dispatches written in fractured and occasionally hilarious English suck readers into the mind of exchange student and would-be terrorist Pygmy.

In this wildly experimental text, Palahniuk (Snuff, 2008, etc.) creates such a compelling character in Pygmy that we accept the boy’s biases and epithets as completely appropriate. He arrives in the United States with a strong accent and a strong distaste for everything American, including his host family: “vast cow father, pig dog brother, chicken mother, and cat sister.” While planning his rather murky act of terrorism (“Code Name: Operation Havoc”), Pygmy begins to accommodate himself to American life, especially high school. Along with other “social losers,” he represents the United States in a model UN conference, unaccountably wins a spelling bee and takes part in a science fair during which the plants in a competing hydroponics garden are exposed as marijuana. (“Sabotage successful,” he writes.) Trying, like many of us, to make sense of contemporary American life, Pygmy fails because so much of popular culture is short on logic and meaning. His take on what the customs agent assures him is “the greatest country on earth”? “Snake nest. American den of evil. Hive of corruption.” His perception of the educational system? “Primary function introduce partners for reproduction.” His take on a girl at a school dance? “Specimen female, permit perform mating dance prior generate human embryo?” Pygmy loves to quote leaders he admires, such as Adolf Hitler: “It is not truth that matters, but victory.” And while his machinations eventually destroy his American family, not even the disclosure that Pygmy is a terrorist can get much of a rise out of his host sister, who has the typical adolescent reaction: “Whatever.”

Stylistically exhilarating but not for every taste.