In Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke, Victor Mancini is a medical school dropout who works at some sort of historic amusement park, a reenactment museum, specifically, set in colonial times. He is under paid and somewhat mistreated. Although he also inflicts mistreatment on them, albeit usually behind their back by abusing the system somehow. And now with his mother (a single parent) in a nursing home, he must also cover the cost of her specialized care.
But Palahniuk doesn’t seem to want his readership to feel too sorry for his protagonist. Victor Mancini himself, narrating in the first person doesn’t want any sympathy. He in fact discourages you from even attempting to read his story, as surely you must have something better to do. He then goes on to talk about his sexual addiction, and the group he attends. Which is not really something he does to get cured of his addiction, but rather he sees the meetings as the best opportunity to get with other people that share the same sort of sexual appetite and even some of his unusual proclivities. Well, it’s not a character everyone can identify with, but as usual with Palahniuk’s mastery of the craft, he makes you believe that the person you are reading is very real, and very specific.
All of this is of course not shocking enough for the author, so you get a few extras, like the comical ways in which some of the people that attend the sexual addiction meetings achieve stimulation; or Victor’s penchant for going out to dinner, ordering an expensive meal, choking on it so the restaurant manager feels obliged to cover at least the cost of his meal. But more importantly it is a con game for him. One in which the fellow patron, the good Samaritan that saves his life by performing the Heimlich maneuver on him, becomes the victim of Victor’s “guilt trip extortion scheme”, as he makes a habit of being very grateful to the person who saved his life, keeping in touch with them for months, even years apparently, but with the ultimate purpose of being able to share his not always non-fictional personal tragedies and manipulating the poor, hapless saps into sending him money. At one point Victor seems to try to rationalize his scheme by talking about the service he provides for those people that send him money. He says it must make them feel good to help someone in need.
Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel, Fight Club, established his reputation for originality, innovation, gritty, succinct writing, and particular attention to detail. This book initially got a lot of flak from critics but, and not only amongst his diehard fans, this novel Choke, doesn’t seem to be doing anything to diminish the further dissemination of that well-earned reputation.