We can more or less deduce the following of the main protagonist in Choke; Victor Mancini is a ruthless con artist. Victor Mancini is a medical school dropout who's taken a job playing an Irish indentured servant in a colonial-era theme park in order to help care for his Alzehimer's-afflicted mother. Victor Mancini is a sex addict. Victor Mancini is a direct descendant of Jesus Christ. Welcome, once again, to the world of Chuck Palahniuk.
"Art never comes from happiness" says Mancini's mother only a few pages into the novel. Given her own dicey and melodramatic style of parenting, you would think that her son's life would be chock full of nothing but art. Alas, that's not the case--in the fine tradition of Oedipus, Stephen Dedalus and Anthony Soprano, Victor hasn't quite reconciled his issues with his mother. Instead, he's trawling sexual-addiction recovery meetings for dates and purposely choking in restaurants for a few moments of attention. Longing for a hug, in other words, he's settling for the Heimlich.
Thematically, this is pretty familiar Palanhiuk territory. It would be a pity to disclose the surprises of the plot but suffice to say that what we have here is a little bit of Tom Robbins's Another Roadside Attraction, a little bit of Don DeLillo's The Day Room and, well, a little bit of Fight Club. Just as with that book and the other two novels under Palahniuk's belt, we get a smattering of gloriously unflinching sound bites, such as this sceptical slight on prayer chains: "A spiritual pyramid scheme. As if you can gang up on God. Bully him around."
Whether this is the novel that will break Palanhiuk into the mainstream is hard to say. For a fourth book, in fact, the ratio of iffy, "dude"-intensive dialogue to interesting and insightful passages is a little higher than we might wish. In the end though, the author's nerve and daring pull the whole thing off--just. And what's next for Victor Mancini's creator? Leave the last word to him, declaring as he does on the final pages: "Maybe it's our job to invent something better ... What it's going to be, I don't know." --Bob Michaels, Amazon.com