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Originally published Sunday, May 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Book review

"Pygmy": Dark comedy on ideology falls short on topicality

"Fight Club" author's new novel plays with terrorist plots — Cold War-style.

Special to The Seattle Times

"Pygmy," by Chuck Palahniuk

Doubleday, 240 pp., $24.95

Doubleday is pitching Chuck Palahniuk's 10th novel as "The Manchurian Candidate" meets "South Park," and this is about right. How the author of "Fight Club" has come to a point where his own publisher can liken his work to a puerile cartoon is a longer subject than this newspaper has space for these days. Suffice it to say that the prolific Palahniuk's twisted imagination is still in full bloom, and his love affair with language, especially adjectives, is growing.

"Operative me to defile security of degenerate United States snake nest. Den of evil. Hive of corruption." So declares Pygmy, the 13-year-old narrator, an exchange student from an unnamed totalitarian state who arrives in our country to stay with a host family and plot a massive terrorist attack. The host-family mother innocently tells him, "We'll make an American out of you or, swear to our Lord almighty God, we are gonna die trying. ... "

There you have it: brainwashed wannabe terrorist versus a typical consumerist American family. In case it's not clear from the setup, this is a comedy. And it's funny. Palahniuk is 47 years old and still raging against the machine, but at least he is doing so with a sense of humor.

Pygmy, who is Asian, narrates in tortured English and quotes Karl Marx, Fidel Castro, et al. What's odd is that he doesn't quote bin Laden, Ahmadinejad, or the Taliban dolts, the current chief purveyors of terrorism and anti-Western propaganda. Mocking communism in 2009 seems beside the point.

Perhaps Palahniuk decided to leave the more topical satire to "South Park."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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