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Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
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A-PygmyAfter his recent novels Snuff ( 2.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2008), Rant ( 3 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2007), and Haunted ( 2 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2005), Chuck Palahniuk brings another unorthodox protagonist to life with Pygmy, a pint-sized terrorist bent on destroying the United States.

The Story: The Cedars, a mainstream, white, suburban family, naively believe they are hosting a foreign exchange student. In reality, they are sheltering Pygmy, a 13-year-old terrorist with deadly skills and a seething, ingrained hatred of the United States. Pygmy is one of a group of teenaged killers sent by a mysterious home country to infiltrate America and unleash the equally mysterious "Operation Havoc" on the masses. As Agent 67, he navigates the treacherous waters of high school as he prepares to bring the country to its knees. Using undercover dispatches and flashbacks to tell Pygmy's story, Palahniuk's social satire exposes the darkest side of American culture.
Doubleday. 241 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780385526340

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The rapid-fire conclusion is rushed, but readers who stick it out through the linguistic difficulties will be rewarded with a full portrait of an unforgettable character. Pygmy is yet another unique direction for an author who continues to challenge and intrigue readers." Eric Liebetrau

Guardian (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Palahniuk's America reflects the worst suspicions of people from across the political spectrum: money-mad, racist and mawkishly religious, it's also filled with sexed-up housewives and weed-smoking teenagers casually scoring morning-after pills. ... Behind the often quite funny overkill and casually exiguous plot, it's essentially a fantasy about being a small, picked-on outsider in high school while fancying yourself a secret agent on a mission of revenge." Christopher Tayler

Telegraph (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The writing is as snarling and unsubtle as any petulant teenager. But, thankfully, like a few teenagers, it has moments of poetry within." Stephen Abell

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Pygmy is a dish for those who like their satire well done. And without apology." Sean Beaudoin

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"Sloppy yet smart, Chuck Palahniuk's Pygmy veers from sublimely ridiculous to just plain ridiculous, sometimes within a single paragraph. ... Maybe Palahniuk isn't capable of doing more with Pygmy's great voice than using it to strike a series of grotesquely comic poses, or maybe I'm just partially immune to the pleasures of a novel that features a thousand slang terms for 'breasts.'" Jeff VanderMeer

NY Times Book Review 1 of 5 Stars
"Readers of Palahniuk's excellent early work (Fight Club, Invisible Monsters) will sense a shallow, phoned-in quality to his new novel. Despite its transgressive trappings and cultural-critique posturing, Pygmy is as defanged as Marilyn Manson." Joseph Salvatore

Critical Summary

"What will he think of next?" asked the flabbergasted critic from the New York Times Book Review. Indeed, while several reviewers praised the novel as a darkly humorous commentary on American society, most agreed it contained serious flaws. Palahniuk's tenth novel seems designed to flummox readers with its extreme profanity, graphic sexual violence involving minors, and portrayal of adults as either brainless buffoons or shameless perverts. Critics were also split on the author's repeated use of an undefined syntax, reminiscent of pidgin English, throughout. What readers, after all, will have the patience to read sentences like, "Revered soon dying mother, distribute you ammunitions correct for Croatia-made forty-five-caliber, long-piston-stroke APS assault rifle"? Overall, critics acknowledged that diehard Palahniuk fans might savor Pygmy but that most folks would find it too stomach-turning.