Choke by Chuck Palahniuk (2001)


L: 7/10

M: 7/10

J: 5.5/10


Analysis from a beautiful April snowfall, killing all the plants the nice young man at Home Depot warned you not to plant this early in the year:

Once again, we are drinking from the fountain of Chuck, this time (at least for me) taking a visit back to his 2001 book, Choke. I’ve read this book before, but I don’t feel like this is cheating. It was light years ago, during my freshman year of high school, so I don’t remember much of the plot, and also, who is going to stop me. It was the first book I ever read of my own volition, back when I didn’t know you could read for fun. I would love to able to recall how the book ended up in my hands. Still, I remember feeling an ultimate power source of cool, carrying it around on the bus and classes to let everyone know that I was an intellectual and interesting. 

This revisit to the book was a little bit of a letdown, but isn’t everything when compared to a glorious memory? The plot is typical Palahniuk looniness, but it has the refined edge of his early days. Now his books seem sloppy compared to much of his early work, and it’s a shame that he can’t repeat at the quality levels that his quantity has become. 

The main character, Victor, is trying his hardest to be completely unlikable. He comes out of the mind of Chuck, though, so it’s hard to completely write him off despite the terrible things he does. Present-day, Victor finds himself working in a shitty colonial theme park to pay the intense medical bills for a mother that no longer can remember who he is. He spends his free time refusing to advance past the all-important fourth step of sex addiction recovery and also purposely chokes in restaurants to scheme his saviors into lifelong imprisonments of devotion.

The pages are jam-packed with story. At times it feels like there might be one too many pieces of plot floating around in the relatively short novel. When you factor in the jump cuts back into the adolescent days of Victor, where his bat-shit crazy anarchist mother kept kidnapping him from foster parents to cause absolute chaos, the story is bulging at the seams. Towards the end, when all the moving parts are working towards the ending at a fevered pace, I felt a little cheated when the wrap-up was so concise and brief. The highly unusual love interest is one of the best parts of this book, and when one of the biggest twists is unspun, I really wanted to live in that moment and hear what happened next in everyone’s life.

Choke will remain in my upper echelon of Chuck books and will always hold a special place in my heart. Its inspiration led me into an unsuccessful English major that mutated into something unrecognizable and ultimately resulted in crushing debt. It’s nice to know that I hold a portal to a happier, dumber time before knowing how depressing and unaffordable adulthood would be. 

Analysis from that silk pillowcase that you just had to have that never stays on your freaking pillow:

As with all of Chuck’s books, this was a solid yet disturbing read. I will be a diehard fan for always, but that doesn’t mean they will all be tens. This book took a little longer to get into for me. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t completely invested at the beginning, but it all changed soon enough. I say this every time I review a Chuck Palahniuk book, but I think he is working on some long game social experiment. It’s as if he knows we will read whatever he puts out there, and sometimes he just tests the waters to see how weird he can get. I went into Choke expecting that vibe, but it wasn’t there. I think perhaps that was the small disconnect for me. I wanted a little bit weirder.
I have to say that anytime I read a Palahniuk book, I go through some major nausea episodes. Chuck has a way of painting a picture that is almost tangible. It’s never about how beautiful a flower is or the lovely smell of a babbling brook. Chuck paints mental images of women choking on pudding or teeth cleaning that is so perfectly detailed you feel you can smell the rotten food. I’m getting a little queasy just thinking of it. It’s a gift he has, though I wish he would sometimes use it for good instead of evil.
The sex addict play on things was quite amusing and interesting and gave you a glimpse into a psyche you might not always have access to. I also loved the mental and emotional journey that went on with Victor. Sometimes I hated him, sometimes I pitied him, and on a few rare occasions, I rooted for him. That’s the most you can as of a character, really. Throw in a few surprise twists and turns, and you’ve got a book I can see myself returning to at some point.

Analysis from the childhood trauma that molds you into a weirdo:

I have to admit, I didn’t care much for this book. While the words had a lot to offer the mind with their many plot points and explicit details, I just found that I wasn’t eager to keep reading it. It is the first book that I have read from Chuck Palahniuk and likely won’t be my last, so the writing is well done. The storyline was just a rollercoaster, and I found myself with Dramamine.
I can sympathize with Victor. A childhood plagued by the anarchy he endured would set just about anyone on a course for some harm in his future. The flashbacks to his past set the stage for understanding his present-day actions. (I am still slightly confused about how long some of the repercussive actions started taking place as the book seemed to mostly focus on his sex addiction beginnings.) I get why he wanted attention and to be adored and the dependence on the carnal pleasures of the flesh, but it all just seemed over the top to me.
There were parts of this book that I found borderline inspirational, personally introspective, and pretty thought-provoking. First, his mom’s antics to cause upheaval and discord… yeah, that was my jam. While not fully an anarchist in my true day to day, I have it in my heart and was completely compelled to raise some hell after reading about his mother in her youth. (Mainly pg. 159, when Ida is explaining the dangers of a boring world.) I devastatingly agree that we spend so much time trying to be safe that we forget to live. While I’m not out to ruin respectable businesses or disrupt a ballet by streaking, I 100% believe that our present-day notions on political correctness, shaming people who are outside of the realm of what is considered acceptable unacceptable, and appropriate standards for living are taking away people’s rights to adventure.
Later (pg 213), Victor is describing an interaction he had with Denny, and it hit really close to home. “What I want is to be needed. What I need is to be indispensable to somebody. Who I need is someone that will eat up all of my free time, my ego, my attention,” were lines that cut through me. Being needed is a hard drug for those who have feelings of abandonment.
Finally, an incredible line is found on page 248 (“You begin to wonder, just what do they mean by vacant.”). While he was describing the misleading vacant-signaling bathroom doors in public that are a thin veil for an “accidental” sexual rendezvous, it’s a compelling thought to think these people are instead indicating that they are the vacant ones. It made me wonder how disorienting it would be to walk in on such a person and not indulge the addiction but instead the baser need of being seen truly.
With those thoughts out of the way, I think my favorite part of the book was the reveal about Paige. Man, that cracked me up. I know the feeling of finding something that seems to be too good to be true and watching it spectacularly fail.
I secretly wanted her to actually be a time-traveler.

Chuck Palahniuk

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