Bidding farewell to this terror-stricken decade with the heady mix of jolting rage and deadpan human commentary that made Fight Club an instant classic, Chuck Palahniuk’s latest work of fiction tells the story of a bloodthirsty exchange student hell bent on bringing our flagwaving American infrastructure to its bloated knees.
The product of an unnamed totalitarian regime, Palahniuk’s title character is part of a core of expertly trained teenage assassins whose mission — dubbed Operation Havoc — kicks off at a typical Midwestern middle school where students unwittingly prepare for the science project that will serve as backdrop to the killers’ ascent to global domination. Lampooning fellow patriots as only an American can, Palahniuk speaks from Pygmy’s point of view using a narrative style that starts out clunky but soon verges on comic genius — the book’s jacket description, “The Manchurian Candidate meets South Park,” proves wholly and hilariously accurate. When he’s not annihilating his classmates (both mentally and literally, using a repertoire that includes “Barracuda Deadly Eye Gouge” and “Whirling Wolverine”), Pygmy can be found eyeballing prospective female receptacles for “seed of operative me” and attending secret training sessions alongside his murderous comrades.
Palahniuk expertly (and often grotesquely) slips fragments of Pygmy’s violent former life into the character’s detailed mission reports, along with frequently poignant observations on the adolescent experience, which, unbeknownst to Pygmy, is subject to neither doctrine nor geography. If Pygmy can withstand the asininity of his host family, whose “chicken face” mother hoards batteries for her vibrator collection, he’ll gain access to the host father’s pharmaceutical company and subsequently topple American society at its pill-popping core.
Along the way, Pygmy delivers the kind of smoldering, pinpoint evaluations of everything from organized religion to Wal-Mart that could elicit nervous laughter independent of the trademark gore that Palahniuk uses to drive his satire home. Grade: B