From what I remember, I have already made two vows in this blog, neither of which I have kept unbroken. Yet here I am, still with enough audacity to announce another one: to read through all my unread books in the next several months. Since I am quitting teaching, I have no excuse to delay chipping away at my mountain-pile of accumulations (31, according to my last count). This review marks my first achievement, finishing Choke months after Mike gave me his old copy.
“If you’re going to read this, don’t bother,” goes the first line of Choke. Indeed, at first glance, there is nothing worth bothering yourself about here. It lines up awful scene after awful scene, showing images an average person would not want to look at—but then again, some things are just too horrible to ignore. Like Palahniuk’s other novel Rant, everything about Choke feels gritty and hard-edged, as if it’s contraband material. Choke has a solid voice in its narrator, but one that is sadly too familiar. It approximates the general tone of the myriad characters of Rant, and—I am tempted to assume—Palahniuk’s other books. Victor’s extremely cynical tone gets old quickly. He assumes to know so much about life and its hard truths: “It’s okay to cry as long as you’re faking it.” At some point I wanted to shout, “Life sucks. Get over it!”
At first, Choke proved addictive. I couldn’t put it down. Its unbelievably short chapters kept me going. But soon enough I wasn’t following the plot closely anymore, and I couldn’t care less. Perhaps intentionally, Choke cultivates a passive dislike for its characters. Their different ways of thinking create a text that regularly spouts Zen or language philosophy, and even thoughts you would expect from violent true believers. Interesting, yes, but also disturbing—not people you would want to empathize with.
You can probably tell, reading this book wasn’t exactly a thrill for me. The supreme irony is, it picks up again in the closing chapters. But things still don’t make sense until literally the last page, when everything suddenly falls in place like one of those jigsaw puzzles Victor keeps mentioning. To keep myself from spoiling, I will limit myself to this: If life doesn’t give you anything worth living for, invent something better. “Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it.” Even, apparently, life.
It seemed that moment would last forever. That you had to risk your life to get love.
Painting a picture, composing an opera, that’s just something you do until you find the next willing piece of ass.
There’s an opposite to déjà vu. They call it jamais vu. It’s when you meet the same people or visit places, again and again, but each time is the first. Everybody is always a stranger. Nothing is ever familiar.
We’ve spent so much time judging what other people created that we’ve created very, very little of our own.
Language, she said, was just our way to explain away the wonder and the glory of the world. To deconstruct. To dismiss. She said people can’t deal with how beautiful the world really is. How it can’t be explained and understood.
Anything new or different or original was probably against the law. Anything risky or exciting would land you in jail.
What Denny says is that maybe the second coming of Christ isn’t something God will decide. Maybe God left it up to people to develop the ability to bring back Christ into their lives. Maybe God wanted us to invent our own savior when we were ready. When we need it the most. Denny says maybe it’s up to us to create our own messiah.
There’s no way you can get the past right. You can pretend. You can delude yourself, but you can’t re-create what’s over.
We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.