Doubleday Books, Hardcover, 9780385526340, 241pp.
Publication Date: May 5, 2009
"The Manchurian Candidate" meets "South Park"--Chuck Palahniuk's finest novel since the generation-defining "Fight Club."
""Begins here first account of operative me, agent number 67 on arrival Midwestern American airport greater _____ area. Flight _____. Date _____. Priority mission top success to complete. Code name: Operation Havoc."
Thus speaks Pygmy, one of a handful of young adults from a totalitarian state sent to the United States, disguised as exchange students, to live with typical American families and blend in, all the while planning an unspecified act of massive terrorism. Palahniuk depicts Midwestern life through the eyes of this thoroughly indoctrinated little killer, who hates us with a passion, in this cunning double-edged satire of an American xenophobia that might, in fact, be completely justified. For Pygmy and his fellow operatives are cooking up something big, something truly awful, that will bring this big dumb country and its fat dumb inhabitants to their knees.
It's a comedy. And a romance.
"In a time of justifiable concern about terrorism, Palahniuk has written a hilarious novel about an unlikely terrorist cell: foreign-exchange students who arrive at a midwestern city, bent on unleashing 'Operation Havoc.'The story unfolds in a series of dispatches from an unnamed 13-year-old agent, dubbed 'Pygmy' by the locals. (That his reports are in broken English makes no sense, but the prose provides terrific opportunities for humor even if, at book length, it requires some effort.) Despite Pygmy’s command of the deadly arts, he is still a 13-year-old, prone to unwanted erections, and he is not the coolest kid in the cadre, either. The frisson around his internal, target-acquiring narrative, the locals’ unwitting perception of him, and his outsider’s view of the routine humiliations inflicted upon high-school youth is so spot-on it produces a sense of déjà vu: surely someone would have thought of this before. ('Dispatch Sixth,' treating Junior Swing Choir, is laugh-out-loud funny.) This isn’t for everyone: as ever, Palahniuk is interested in pushing the limits of what readers will tolerate in terms of clinically described sex and gore. However, in contrasting the mindless sloganeering of totalitarianism with the anything-goes nature of Americanism, his own message is anything but subversive. By now, the author’s fans know who they are. Those left cold by last year’s Snuff (2008) will welcome his return to the fine form of Fight Club (1996). Palahniuk leaps over the line of good taste—and lands squarely on his feet."
— Keir Graff, Booklist (starred review)