Saturday, August 22, 2015

#Blaugust Day 22: Thalen Reads Choke

We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heros or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide the future. Or we can decide for ourselves. - Victor Mancini

Choke is a book about salvation.

It's also a book about sex addiction, dementia, suffocation, rocks, and chocolate pudding. But the over-arching theme is salvation. The power that saving someone gives you over them, but also the power the saved has over the person that has, in saving them, taken a measure of responsibility for them.

Victor Mancini is a sex addict and a med school dropout. He works at a colonial village with his friend Denny, who he met through an addiction recovery program. He never knew his father. His mother was in and out of jail throughout his childhood for 'acts of social rebellion' of the Project Mayhem sort; swapping colors of hair dye in store, giving LSD to zoo monkeys, and so forth. Now she's slowly wasting away in a home for those with dementia. To support her, Victor chokes in restaurants.

What Victor has learned is that he can pretend to choke in a restaurant and when someone 'saves' him, they feel a responsibility to him. They keep in contact with him, send him a card with a check on his birthday, ask how he's doing and if there's anything they can do to help. He's choked thousands of times and uses the income from that to pay for his mother's care.

At the care center, other patients with dementia keep mistaking him for someone who wronged them in the past. He ultimately plays along, accepting those sins onto himself and giving the patients a kind of closure. He meets a doctor who claims she can cure his mother. The doctor just needs Victor to have sex with her. He learns that his mother has a diary (written in Italian) that contains some shocking secret about his heritage. And Victor begins to question who he really is and what he can do both for himself and for others.

If you've seen or read Fight Club (and seriously, you should do both) then you should have a pretty good idea of the type of book this will be. By turns hilarious and disturbing, and often both simultaneously. Loaded with sex, but almost never sexy. Ultimately it's a book about a man learning the truth about himself and taking some control of his life. I think I actually liked Choke a little better than Fight Club. It was a bit more optimistic in the end; with a 'we could go anywhere we want from here' feel.

Next up I'm going back to the classic science fiction; Philip Jose Farmer's Hugo-winning To Your Scattered Bodies Go, the first book in the Riverworld series. Come back next Saturday to see how I like it!

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