Victor Mancini, a medical-school dropout, is an antihero for our deranged times. Needing to pay elder care for his mother, Victor has devised an ingenious scam: he pretends to choke on pieces of food while dining in upscale restaurants. He then allows himself to be “saved” by fellow patrons who, feeling responsible for Victor’s life, go on to send checks to support him. When he’s not pulling this stunt, Victor cruises sexual addiction recovery workshops for action, visits his addled mom, and spends his days working at a colonial theme park. His creator, Chuck Palahniuk, is the visionary we need and the satirist we deserve.
While it's always interesting to hear authors read their own work, this production is not likely to prompt a narrating career for Palahniuk (Fight Club) on par with his literary accomplishments. That's not to say, however, that his style doesn't work with this offbeat story of a sex-addicted medical school dropout whose gift is pretending to choke in restaurants and reaping the sympathy checks of the people who "save" him in order to pay for the care of his sick mother. Palahniuk reads with a husky, occasionally whiny voice that's rushed and intense. At times it seems like he's not reading at all, but reciting the novel from memory as he paces the floor with a cup of coffee in one hand and the fingers of the other pressed to his forehead while a cigarette smolders away in the ashtray. He brings a unique sensibility and opts for inflections that other narrators probably would not. After the book implores listeners to turn away and go no further in Chapter 1, for instance, Palahniuk reads the words "Chapter 2" in a tone of voice that says, "OK, you asked for it." That's a fitting sentiment for those who choose to listen, as this bizarre story is by turns hilarious and depressing, read in an idiosyncratic manner by an idiosyncratic author. Based on the Doubleday hardcover (Forecasts, Apr. 2, 2001).