First edition cover
|Publication date||May 5, 2009|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
The plot revolves around a 13-year-old boy named Agent Number 67 from an unnamed, totalitarian state described as a "mash-up of North Korea, Cuba, Communist-era China, and Nazi-era Germany", as an exchange student to live with an American family from an unnamed Midwestern location as a sleeper agent to execute a terrorist attack on the United States codenamed "Operation Havoc". Nicknamed "Pygmy" by his American family for his diminutive size, he is introduced into the rituals of modern American life such as enrolling in public school, and going to church. On a trip to Wal-Mart with his host brother, in the bathroom he sodomises a bully who had been victimising his host brother. The scene is described in graphic detail. This is only the first of many acts committed by the operative in order to adjust to American life, while preparing with his fellow operatives, also masquerading as exchange students, to execute "Operation Havoc".
- Pygmy - The protagonist and narrator of the novel, Pygmy is a foreign operative/terrorist sent to the United States under the guise of a cultural exchange program. Since four years of age, Pygmy and his fellow operatives have been isolated from their families and "adopted by the state". They have undergone a highly rigorous training program to become elite soldiers and spies. While the state is highly successful in building Pygmy's fellow operatives into mindless drones, it seems Pygmy continues to foster a spark of self-awareness which develops throughout the novel, eventually developing into human emotions. Ironically, Pygmy becomes a national hero at one point when he saves the lives of many classmates during a school shooting, an event which further jars Pygmy's perception of his motives.
- Cat Sister - Pygmy's nickname for his host sister (other than the operatives, few people's real names are revealed). Pygmy's host sister is shown to be a highly cynical, beautiful girl whose hobbies include electrical engineering. Pygmy is attracted to her from the moment he meets her, eventually developing into a strong love for her. It is "Cat Sister" who eventually causes Pygmy to realize his own humanity, and betray his homeland to save her life. She often sneaks into her father's highly secure work place to steal basic office supplies, having perfected the practice enough to refer to herself as a spy.
- Pig Dog Brother - Pygmy's nickname for his host brother, who is portrayed as an immature preteen. At first, the host brother is hostile to Pygmy's arrival, sarcastically taking advantage of the foreigner's lack of understanding of American culture. Pygmy, however, defends "Pig Dog Brother" from the school bully, Trevor Stonefield, on the first day of his arrival in the U.S. Eventually the relationship between the two grows into almost a friendship, with Pygmy even teaching his host brother several of his lethal martial arts moves.
- Donald Cedar (Cow Father) - Pygmy's host father, an overweight stereotypical Midwesterner who does top-secret work for a government contractor. Donald also volunteers as a junior pastor at the local church, delivering comically nationalistic, jingoist sermons.
- Chicken Mother - Pygmy's host mother, Chicken Mother is described as such by Pygmy due to her bony, lanky physique. Chicken Mother is a nymphomaniac who frequently steals batteries from various electronics around the house to feed her addiction to vibrators, of which she is revealed to have a large collection.
- Trevor Stonefield - A sadistic bully who in the beginning of the novel is seen harassing Pygmy's host brother at the local Wal-Mart, causing Pygmy to follow Trevor into the public restroom and savagely beat and rape him. From then on, Trevor continues to threaten retribution on Pygmy, until it is revealed by Trevor, at gun point, that his rape led him to realize his own homosexuality, and that he is now falling for Pygmy. Pygmy, who has no concept of homosexuality, attributes this to Stockholm Syndrome. This continued rejection eventually leads Trevor to massacre several students during a Model UN Conference, forcing Pygmy to kill him and thus save countless lives. A forensic autopsy reveals Trevor had been sexually assaulted, leading to the arrest of his innocent father. Prior to his school shooting, Trevor wrote a letter confessing his love for Pygmy, thereby implicating him in his rape, but Pygmy is able to obtain the letter before it can be released.
- Magda - One of the operative/terrorists sent to the United States along with Pygmy, and the only one of the operatives given significant attention and personality throughout the novel. Magda was designated back in their homeland to the permanent life partner/wife of Pygmy and procreate children together to be of future use to the state. She attacks and injures the local pastor administering her Baptism during the ceremony. When Magda later gets pregnant, Pygmy assumes the father to be the local "dirty" pastor whom she attacked, and he retaliates accordingly.
Pygmy is an epistolary novel. Each chapter is a dispatch from the main character, Pygmy, writing as Agent Number 67, presumably to his home country's government. The book uses incorrect grammar, mostly comical "Engrish", written in a detached, scientific tone. Pygmy lambasts American culture and society through its comically biased first person narrative, often with humorous effects. As with many other Palahniuk novels, there are numerous small themes woven throughout the novel. Palahniuk has called these recurring themes the "chorus" in Pygmy, he talks about the fighting moves that Agent Number 67 can use to kill a man in one punch or kick, the frequent recitations of elements of the periodic table, and numerous quotes from historical dictators, politicians, generals, and philosophers.