"Begins here first account of operative me, agent number 67, on arrival Midwestern American airport....Code name: Operation Havoc." Thus speaks Pygmy, one of a handful of young adults from a totalitarian state sent to the U.S. disguised as exchange students to live with typical American families and blend in, all the while planning an unspecified attack of massive terrorism. Palahniuk depicts Midwestern life through the eyes of this thoroughly indoctrinated little killer, who hates us with a passion, in this cunning double-edged satire of an American xenophobia that might, in fact, be completely justified.
"[A] potent...cultural satire...[full of] characteristically scathing observations....[A] singular, comic accomplishment." (Publishers Weekly) "Hilarious....Palahniuk leaps over the line of good taste - and lands squarely on his feet." (Booklist, starred review)
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The first thing everyone has to say about Pygmy has to do with, of course, the broken English. It is extremely hard to get used to. It took me three times to get rolling, but once I settled in to the cadence of the work, I rather liked the writing style. I found that he created some astonishing word combinations that made me laugh out loud, and think very hard on how we, as Americans, must look to outsiders.
Now- that's out of the way. Please read the following text delicately, as you COULD construe this to be a spoiler, though I'll give no plot details at all.
I've read all of Palahniuk's books. I began with Haunted, and ended with Fight Club. I've read Survivor three times, and never loses its punch for me. Consequently, when CP puts out a new book, I have come to expect a certain thing. I don't go to Chuck's well to walk away refreshed and joyous. I read Chuck's work in an effort to turn myself inside out with every page. This novel, rape and United Nations notwithstanding, is the feel-good book of the year.
Let us just say that, if you are looking for that ending that leaves you hollow and sick and alone in the world- this is MOST ASSUREDLY not it. And if you're looking for the characteristic gore and horror in his writings, you won't find it here.
You will find plenty of admonitions against the evils of America, and far more directed toward the church. But really- is that so hard these days? That seems too banal at this point- too simple. I can get all that from The Daily Show, though admittedly John Stewart isn't as funny as Pygmy.
Palahniuk remains my second favorite author today. He is always thought provoking and witty, and always challenges the reader. Unfortunately, this time, I felt far too much a member of Team Cedar, when I really wanted to be closer to Agent 67.
The cover blurb bills this an over-the-top, edgy satire, which is what I look for from Chuck P. However, the actual novel is more of a juvenile farce, as though the author went on a South Park binge, then wrote it.
It starts off promisingly, narrated in ludicrously mangled English by an insane caricature of an agent from some imaginary North Korea-like country. The agent, who refers to himself as “Operative Me”, has somehow been placed as an exchange student with a cardboard caricature of an American family (known as “Cow Father”, “Chicken Mother”, “Pig-dog Brother”, and “Cat Sister”). His mission, like his fellow agents’, is to wreak havoc on American capitalist devils with an insidious science fair project and to “impregnate fertile American ova with Operative Me seed utilizing bam-bam-quick pumping rabbit maneuver.” Yes. And, yes, that’s how he talks -- listen to a clip of the audiobook.
Being a Palahniuk book, it contains a few trenchant observations, such as when the protagonist notes that American high schools seem to be good for little more than brain-wasting fluff classes and useless mating rituals, with social failure being the main incentive for actual knowledge pursuit. Mostly, though, the clumsy, unbelievable plot is just an excuse for bad English humor (featuring phrases and grammar no one would ever use), foreigner-misunderstanding-something-obvious humor, rape humor, vibrator humor, boob humor, dogs-as-food humor, and predictable shots at dumb American teenagers, evangelical Christians, and Wal-Mart. "Satire" is rather generous.
Still, Operative Me’s voice often made me laugh. He addresses an old lady at church (“religious propaganda distribution outlet”) with titles like “venerated living skeleton” and “revered still-animated corpse”. Taking a page from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il, he ticks off a well-informed listing of America’s national blemishes during a model UN debate, then lists insane suggestions about how to atone for these misdeeds, such as “offering beloved children to serve as sexual chattel slaves to noble third worlders”.
I probably would have loved a book like this as a teenager, but there’s not enough brilliant craziness to really get it off the ground for the adult me. Mostly, it’s just puerile. If you’re a fan of the author and/or are a young male, consider checking it out from the library. Otherwise, don’t bother. 2.5 stars.