Choke / Chuck Palahniuk

It seemed that moment would last forever. That you had to risk your life to get love. You had to get right to the edge of death to ever be saved.

For serious, the Mommy told him, “Art never comes from happiness.”

This is the deluded little rube who really thought the future would be any better. If you just worked hard enough. If you just learned enough. Ran fast enough. Everything would turn out right, and your life would amount to something.

The only funny part about Colonial Dunsboro is maybe it’s too authentic, but for all the wrong reasons. This whole crowd of losers and nutcases who hide out here because they can’t make it in the real world, in real jobs—isn’t this why we left England in the first place? To establish our own alternate reality. Weren’t the Pilgrims pretty much the crackpots of their time? For sure, instead of just wanting to believe something different about God’s love, the losers I work with want to find salvation through compulsive behaviors.

The monkey and the chestnuts. And it calmed the stupid little shit right down. It showed him how brave and strong and happy a person could become. How torture is torture and humiliation is humiliation only when you choose to suffer.

Then she turns on the television, some soap opera, you know, real people pretending to be fake people with made-up problems being watched by real people to forget their real problems.

The one beautiful woman reprograms the amnesia woman into thinking she’s a killer robot that must do the beautiful woman’s bidding. The killer robot accepts her new identity so easy you have to wonder if she’s just faking the amnesia and was always looking for a good reason to go on a killing spree.

Denny says, “but someday, I’d like to live a life based on doing good stuff instead of just not doing bad stuff. You know?”

It’s a homegrown version of those overseas children’s charities. These are the ones where for the price of a cup of coffee, you could save a child’s life. Be a sponsor. The hook is you can’t just save somebody’s life one time. People are having to save me again and again. The same as real life, there is no happily ever after.

You learn all this during Physical Examination, your second year in medical school. You learn all this, and there’s no going back. Ignorance was bliss.

After you find out all the things that can go wrong, your life becomes less about living and more about waiting. For cancer. For dementia. Every look in a mirror, you scan for the red rash that means shingles. See also: Ringworm.

“I don’t know,” Denny says. “A baby’s not like having a dog. I mean, a baby lives a long time, dude.”

It’s not a big deal, the way Dr. Marshall sees it. We do it every day. Kill the unborn to save the elderly. In the gold wash of the chapel, breathing her reasons into my ear, she asked, every time we burn a gallon of gas or an acre of rain forest, aren’t we killing the future to preserve the present?

Even if guys said they were just looking to lose some weight, they wanted sex. If they wanted to quit smoking. Manage stress. Quit biting their nails. Cure hiccups. Stop drinking. Clear up their skin. Whatever the issue, it was because they weren’t getting laid. Whatever they said they wanted, they’d get sex here and the problem was solved.

She set them up on a date with their subconscious because nothing is as good as you can imagine it. No one is as beautiful as she is in your head. Nothing is as exciting as your fantasy.

“I figure if Eve could get us into this mess, then I can get us out,” the Mommy said. “God really likes to see a go-getter.”

Language, she said, was just our way to explain away the wonder and the glory of the world. To deconstruct. To dismiss. She said people can’t deal with how beautiful the world really is. How it can’t be explained and understood.

To kill an unborn baby. I said, even if I wasn’t him, I still didn’t think Jesus would approve. “Of course he would,” Paige said. She snapped the string to flick a lump of tooth jam at me. “Didn’t God sacrifice his own son to save people? Isn’t that the story?” Here it is again, the fine line between science and sadism. Between a crime and a sacrifice. Between murdering your own child and what Abraham almost did to Isaac in the Bible.

If you can change the way people think, she said. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. If you do that, you can change the way people live their lives. And that’s the only lasting thing you can create.

Besides deforming the poor chickens, these fourth-graders, they all walk in here carrying some germ. It’s no mystery why Denny’s always wiping his nose and coughing. Head lice, pin-worms, chlamydia, ringworm—for serious, these field trip kids are the pint-sized horsemen of the apocalypse.

Instead of useful Pilgrim crap, I tell them how their playground game ring-around-a-rosy is based on the bubonic plague of 1665. (…)  And I ask them, hey kids, can anybody here tell me how people in the eighteenth century used to abuse naked little boys to death. This always gets their attention.

and for sure she thought it would turn into something romantic, but hey. Me being face deep in her wonderful rubbery butt, it’s amazing what a woman will read into it if you by accident say, I love you. Ten times out of ten, a guy means I love this.

Here, I’m supposed to tell her the truth. I admire addicts. In a world where everybody is waiting for some blind, random disaster or some sudden disease, the addict has the comfort of knowing what will most likely wait for him down the road. He’s taken some control over his ultimate fate, and his addiction keeps the cause of his death from being a total surprise.

The airline can’t ask you to prove you’re crazy, the Mommy said. It would be discrimination. You wouldn’t ask a blind person to prove they were blind.

사람들에게는 절대로 추천해 줄 수 없을 'Guts'의 추잡스러움에 끌려서 팔라닉의 소설들에 더 재미를 붙여 보려고 했지만 Choke까지 읽고 난 뒤 내가 내린 결론은 이 작가의 문체가 나랑 안 맞는다는 것이다. Fight Club을 처음 읽었을 때도 같은 생각을 했지만 이 때만 해도 영화의 연출이 화려했기에 소설은 상대적으로 그만큼의 재미가 느껴지지 않나보다 했고, 너무 지루해서 1년 가까이 진도를 못 나가고 있는 Damned의 경우 글을 쓰다보면 졸작 하나쯤은 나오는 거지 뭐... 라며 넘어갔는데 이쯤 되니 팔라닉 소설들은 애초부터 더러운 컬트물을 빙자한 지루한 일상물인 모양이다. 

일상물을 까내리려는 것은 아니다. '등대로'나 '소설가 구보씨의 일일' 같은 소설들은 우리 삶만큼이나 단조로움에도 그 때문에 공감이 가고 흥미가 느껴진다. 하지만 팔라닉은 애초에 독자에게 자신이 섬세하게 관찰한 일상을 보여주는 작가가 아니라 자극적인 컬트 영화 같은 소설을 기대하게 만드는 작가다. 그런데 정작 독자들이 기대하는 추잡스러운 이야기는 원체 시원하게 터뜨려 주지를 않고 별 관심이 가지도 않는 주인공의 너저분한 인생 얘기만 되풀이되니 이 사람이 언제 클라이막스를 터뜨릴지 애간장만 태우다가 끝나고 만다. (그렇다고 이 소설이 자극적이지 않다는 건 아니고... 제목에서 동떨어진 소재로 자극적인 이야기를 하니 지루하다는 거다. 나는 주인공이 제목 'Choke'에 걸맞게 게속해서 질식하고 사람들의 동정을 사고자 하는 이야기를 듣고 싶었지, 읽기만 해도 비위가 상하는 주인공의 성생활에는 조금도 관심이 없었다...)

이 소설의 가장 큰 결함은 파이트 클럽에서 발전한 점이 조금도 없다는 거다. 같은 작가가 쓴 소설들이 서로 비슷한 문체, 비슷한 분위기를 보이는 것은 당연한 일이지만, 그렇더라도 소설 하나하나 인상을 남길 수 있는 독자적인 느낌을 갖추고 있기 마련인데 Choke의 문장들은 파이트 클럽을 그대로 복사한 뒤 이름이랑 설정 몇 가지만 바꾼 것마냥 스타일이 너무 똑같아서 더 식상하다. Victor의 어머니는 아예 타일러 더든을 성전환 시킨 버전이나 다름없고 Victor의 말투는 파이트 클럽의 화자와 흡사하다. 그들만의 매력이 전혀 없다. 파이트 클럽은 그나마도 더러운 자본주의 사회를 파괴하겠다!라는 타일러 더든의 신념으로 통쾌함이라도 느끼게 해 주는데, Choke는 고구마만 먹이다가 꿀꿀하게 결말을 맺고 만다.

그리고 이건 개인적인 견해이지만... 최근 몇 년 사이 시류가 크게 변하면서 나 역시 책이나 영화를 볼 때 정치적 올바름이 적절하게 적용되었는가를 많이 따지게 되었는데, Choke는 여성관에 있어서만큼은 최악의 수준을 달리는 소설이다. 'filmbro', 'toxic masculinity'를 깔 때마다 꼭 언급되는 영화 파이트 클럽의 원작자가 쓴 책인데다 색정광 주인공이 등장하니 책에서 정상적인 이성관이 묘사되기를 기대하는 건 어리석은 짓이지만 적어도 독서에서 정신적 안정을 취하고자 하는 나에게는 주인공놈이 일베충스러운 말들을 늘어놓을 때마다 무척이나 불편하게 느껴졌다.

이제는 엽기적인 소설이 끌릴 때 척 팔라닉 대신 어빈 웰시를 찾게 될 것 같다.