Choke by Chuck PalahniukAuthor: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: Anchor Books (2002)
Number of Pages: 293
How long it took me to read: 1 week
Where I got this book: Borrowed it from a friend.
ISBN: 0-385-50156-0

Like a Moth to a Flame

I decided to check this book out because, after becoming mesmerized by both the book and film versions of Fight Club, I wanted to see what else the author, Chuck Palahniuk, was capable of producing. In this case, I had heard from another Palahniuk fan that Choke had an especially warped sense of humor to it, so that’s ultimately what led me to this one.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “For sure, even the worst blow job is better than, say, sniffing the best rose… watching the greatest sunset. Hearing children laugh.” (p.19)

4. “The world won’t end with a whimper or a bang, but with a discreet, tasteful announcement: ‘Bill Rivervale, phone call holding, line two.’ Then, nothing.” (p.202)

3. “ ‘Parasite’ isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.” (p.33)

2. “Because sponges never have a bad day.” (p.282)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “My point is, this is America. You start out with hand jobs and progress to orgies. You smoke some dope and then, the big H. This is our whole culture of bigger, better, stronger, faster. The key word is progress.” (p.202)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

When I first tried to think of what to write about for this book, I wanted to make an observation that contained some depth to it. Honestly though, it isn’t that type of book for me. It feels like there’s some substance, sure, but the more I think about it, the less I can find it. Many of the secondary characters feel hollow, and there isn’t enough emotional development for me to really care about their fates. When the narrator from Fight Club talked about Tyler Durden and Marla Singer, they really came alive, just as much as the narrator did himself. With Choke, characters like Paige and Denny feel like they only exist during the times that Victor, the protagonist, is talking about them. They have all the traits they need to propel the story, but they don’t seem like people I could actually run into while walking down the street. There’s been no specific moment so far that’s made me feel this way, but I’m just getting the general impression that they resemble caricatures more than real people. Now, there’s no law that says every character needs to be well-rounded, obviously, but since they’re pretty crucial to the story, I was hoping for a little bit more.”

“I really like Victor Mancini as a character, but I have a hard time caring about the situations in which he’s placed. He presents everything he does in this larger-than-life way, and it’s getting to the point where his narrative is just too grand to relate to. It’s as if the plot never quite finds its focal point. Sometimes Victor’s a sex addict. Sometimes he’s an actor. Sometimes he’s the angel of his mother’s nursing home. Sometimes he’s making himself choke in restaurants. It all works for his character, but it doesn’t always feel cohesive. And I get it. They all go along with this running theme of Victor being this unconventional savior who’s looking for his own form of acceptance. It’s just that, as dynamic as his character is, many of his traits feel so overwhelming and in-your-face that when the attention switches to a new one, the change is very noticeable. He’s a fun person to read about—just the right level of sick and witty—and while I laugh at him, he seems to appreciate the humor of his situations too. But I can’t help wondering if I would enjoy him more in smaller, more focused doses.”

“Since Fight Club was the reason I picked up this book in the first place, it feels only right that I should at least mention the difference in impressions that they left on me. I originally fell in love with Palahniuk’s style because of his surreal profundity. It felt like his ideas could really apply to my life. For instance, if I actually decided to follow suit, I could attain the same freedom from the bonds of society that his characters spoke about by breaking myself down to nothing. The concept of living such a minimalist lifestyle was the most appealing to me at times. I think the more responsibilities I become accountable for, the more I wonder how life would be with no possessions or duties to tie me down—nothing and no one to answer to. These ideas may not always be practical, healthy, or realistic, but they feel like philosophies I could still live by if I got pushed far enough. Sure, it would require a degree of sacrifice and change that I’m not even close to being comfortable with, but the goal feels like one I could achieve, if I had to.”

“In the end, I probably just raised my hopes too high. Fight Club has had the type of impact on readers where half the people I know can (and do) regularly quote from it and make reference to the characters. It’s clearly made a much more lasting impression on our wider culture as well. There’s really no denying it. Maybe Choke does have more insight than I picked up on with this first read-through, but I can’t help seeing it as existing in the shadow of Fight Club.”

“I think the reason I’ve enjoyed Choke is much simpler than what I want to admit to myself. It’s light, fast, and funny, and sometimes, that’s all I want to pass the time. My first thoughts while reading were less ‘How thought-provoking this is’ and more ‘Man, no one writes a sex-gone-wrong scene like Palahniuk does.’ He may not always be cutting edge with his material, but I don’t care. This book is a total riot. Like a good comedian telling a joke, the content of his material is not always as important as his timing and delivery. In this book, his humor is enough to keep me entertained without any need for a personal connection. Did I enjoy each page I read? Yes. Will I remember this as much as Fight Club? Probably not.”


Jared Dee

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