Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel Fight Club (1996) established the author’s reputation for innovation, imagination, gritty, sparse writing, and sordid detail. His novel Choke does nothing to discourage the further spread of that reputation. Choke tells the story of Victor Mancini, a sex-addicted young medical school dropout employed to role-play the part of an indentured servant in the Colonial Dunsboro theme park, where the year is always 1734. A victim of Alzheimer’s disease, Victor’s mother is interned in the St. Anthony’s Care Center, costing the eternally broke Victor over $3000.00 a month.
When not working or conducting liaisons with nymphomaniacs he encounters at twelve-step meetings for the sexually addicted, Victor earns extra cash by forcing himself to choke on food in crowded restaurants. Inevitably, someone saves him, so that later Victor can strike up a greeting card relationship to subtly beg for money from people who think they’ve become responsible for Victor’s life.
Flashbacks are interspersed throughout the narrative that relay with unflinching and brutal honesty Victor’s childhood with his mother. Their history together is a litany of “rescues” from foster care; each new experience shared by the two brings a new lesson in paranoia and delusion. As an adult, Victor is as dedicated to emotional distance as he is to physical contact. The effect his mother has had on his consciousness is made even more apparent by Victor’s grudging investigation of his mother’s delusional belief that he is the son of Christ. His redemption lies in the people he keeps at arm’s length; through the development of his bond with his similarly afflicted friend Denny and the mysterious Dr. Paige Marshall, Victor comes to understand that only the human warmth of lasting relationships will provide him the peace he seeks.