Choke by Chuck Palahniuk – Reviewed by Guy Portman
The protagonist, Victor Mancini, is a sex addict employed at an eighteenth-century historical re-enactment park. Victor attends various sexual addiction support groups, where he meets many of his sex partners. It was at one of these groups that Victor made the acquaintance of Denny, a recovering masturbation addict, and now colleague at the historical re-enactment park. Denny has since abandoned his wayward masturbatory ways in favour of collecting rocks.
Victor had been studying at medical school, but was forced into work to pay the bills for his mother’s old peoples home. Victor supplements his income by purposely choking on food at expensive restaurants, which allows him the opportunity to be rescued by his fellow diners. Whoever rescues Victor feels responsible for him forevermore, often sending him cards to commemorate the event. Victor takes advantage of this sense of responsibility to extract money from those who saved him.
Victor becomes obsessed with discovering the true identity of the father he has never met, but his mother, who is suffering from dementia and rarely even recognises Victor, does not provide this information. Denny is enlisted to assist in this matter.
Choke is in essence a social commentary about our innate craving for attention and the fundamental nature of addiction. The protagonist is not only a victim of his mother’s wayward parenting techniques, but also the selfish motivations at the very root of modern American society.
Utilising an episodic narrative, Choke is not narrated in chronological order, there being frequent flash-backs to events from Victor’s tumultuous childhood, involving his conspiracy theory-obsessed mother.
Surreal, humorous, graphic, and disturbing, Choke embraces a simple writing style, littered with Generation X language, of the ‘dudes’ and ‘dogs’ variety. The word ‘dog’, used liberally throughout the book, refers to a penis.
Choke is yet another exponent of Palahniuk’s preference for plotless realism. Though the book is insightful and thought-provoking, the premise that someone is always responsible for you because they saved your life could be argued to be not particularly convincing.