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Fight Club: A Novel Paperback – October 17, 2005
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“Diabolically sharp and funny.”
- Washington Post Book World
“An astonishing debut.... ?a dark, unsettling, and nerve-chafing satire.”
- Seattle Times
“A noir fable with a potent punch.... A genuine, two-fisted talent.”
- Katherine Dunn
“Amazing and artful disturbance. ?Fight Club ?is for everybody who thinks and loves the fine American language.”
- Barry Hannah
About the Author
Chuck Palahniuk is the best-selling author of fourteen fictional works, including Fight Club, Invisible Monsters, Survivor, Choke, Lullaby, Diary, Haunted, Rant, Pygmy, Tell-All, Damned, Doomed, Beautiful You and, most recently, Make Something Up. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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We have a few singularly distasteful scenes involving the manufacture of soap, the cinema, and the fighting in the fight club itself. These may seem gratuitous, but they actually served an important purpose - the purpose of establishing, once and for all, how vile the characters of this book truly are. Not that that is advertant - Palahniuk seems to think you should like them. His Tyler is generally presented as being likeable. After all, he revolted against his role, became "nonconformist," and started ranting about materialism and philosophy. He also likes to talk about freeing oneself from society (by fighting in fight clubs). He does that last bit a lot, because Palahniuk thinks it is deep. By the time he starts attracting legions of followers who beat each other up for him, the message is clear - we are supposed to think very highly of him, because he isn't the way society wants him to be and is "unique." Even when he has these followers go kill people and commit sundry acts of terrorism.
Inexplicably, the irony is lost on most people. Do fans of this book realize that Tyler's "philosophy" does not free anyone, or make anyone stronger, in the entire book? It turns men into blackshirts and stormtroopers - faceless cultists who are even denied names. It destroys their dignity more than society ever did. But Palahniuk has an intellectual rationalization to explain this away! According to him, this is _the way all men are_ deep down inside, and thus, Tyler is really cool and admirable! Well...gosh. Hey, Chuck, if it's good for men to be faceless drones with no will of their own, why rebel in the first place against this horribly oppressive society of yours?
Now, you could say that the book doesn't advocate Tyler's manipulative, narcissistic, destructive worldview. I deny this claim. There is no one in the book who doesn't relish it, even though Jack does stop its spread in the end (in the truly awful ending - more on that in a bit). There is nothing in the book to counteract it. There are no opposing ideas presented. You can come up with a complex thought process that concludes that this is really only an argument _against_ violence, but this conclusion will be based upon nothing that is in, you know, the actual _book_. Because let's make no bones about it - we are meant to like Tyler. I've seen keychains that quote him. All the fans of this book quote Tyler. He's meant to be quoted. He's presented as witty and charming and intelligent and strong and unique, and his megalomaniacal escapades are as well. We are meant to admire him. We even have a particularly contrived and false scene in which Jack forces a man - at gunpoint - to "go and follow his dreams," to reinforce the message - that Tyler is good, society is bad. And the particularly ludicrous ending does nothing to dispel this. You see, thinking that it wasn't enough to write such a fine book already, Palahniuk decided to jump on the "hey, that reality was merely an illusion! THIS is the real reality! it's different!" bandwagon. The result is as gimmicky as you'd think, and more importantly - it serves to "reinforce" this poisonous hogwash about how all males are really just like Tyler (a conclusion based on the author's thorough study of psychology, no doubt). Everything in this book comes back to the coolness of Tyler - a bully who read the Cliff Notes to Nietzsche and uses them to manipulate people who want someone to tell them that their utter failure in life is not their fault so badly that they're willing to die for it. For that's what Tyler is - Palahniuk's poetization of the talentless, worthless, yet very malicious failure. Read the scene in the cinema and you should see just how shallow and worthless Tyler's "rebellion" really is. (Ah, picking on families with children because they represent your hated society, Tyler, what a brave rebel you are.) Again, I must reiterate that this, according to Palahniuk, is something we're supposed to admire.
I've seen a lot of intelligent, thoughtful and kind human beings talk about this book as if it were some kind of stunning intellectual achievement. This baffles me beyond belief. I would have thought that women would be the first to see through the wall of testosterone that clouds the mediocre vileness of this book, but apparently the opposite is the case. Have our standards gone so low that anyone can come along, bang out an utter hack that says "society is bad!" in the crassest way possible, and be recognized as some kind of profound thinker?
This book is garbage. Complete unadulterated crap. Avoid it at all costs if you enjoy a well written story that stands up to even light scrutiny. Avoid it if you are looking for a narrative that is engaging and easy to follow. Avoid it if you enjoy a plot that does not feel completely contrived.
Avoid it if you were looking for a worthy sequel to Fight Club, and not an irreverent bastardization of its characters, plot, and ideas.
Alright, now I can get down to brass tacks. Word of warning - I am going to be venturing into what some might call spoiler-y territory in this review. If that is turning you off from reading the rest of it this, I implore you to reconsider. This is one of the few cases where I believe having something spoiled for you is a better alternative to experiencing it. Help me potentially save you $20 and a lot of buyer's remorse.
- The plot is almost impossible to follow. And it's not deep or thought provoking in a way that would excuse this, either - it's just poorly put together. Numerous times I would turn the page and have to check the page number to make sure it was correct, because I was always feeling like I was missing something. It's just not cohesive.
- Character dialogue frequently feels out of place. For example, when Marla is looking for her son, she asks Tracy (the babysitter, who she just happened to run into, I might add) where he might be. Tracy responds to this urgent question by saying "You broke a nail". How is that even relevant? And it's left at that. Marla - the woman frantically searching for her kidnapped child - did not follow up at all. And another time, closer to the beginning of the book, Sebastian (the main character) comes home to find Tracy wielding a knife and on the phone with 911 - apparently afraid that he was some sort of burglar. Sebastian responds to this situation by saying "I'm not a man" - a statement which is not only unhelpful, but also completely inaccurate. My favorite part about that interaction, though, is that it implies Sebastian had never met the babysitter he was presumably paying to look after his son.
- The art is beautiful, but it very frequently gets in the way of the already-struggling dialogue and plot. And I don't mean symbolically - the art literally gets in the way of the story. Every other page has some unnecessary overlay of pills, rose petals, or sperm that covers up parts of the dialogue or narration. And like I mentioned already - those are bad enough as it is. They don't need any help at being awful. There's one page that's entirely covered in blood. And it's not just a blank page covered in blood - you can clearly see at least three panels at the top with art in them. That's a part of the story that just can't be read. I mean, I get that it was probably an artistic choice that means something on a deeper level, but it just comes off as unnecessary and frankly a bit pretentious. At the very least it makes actually reading the book more difficult and in some cases impossible.
- There are moments when the book clearly attempts to ride on the coattails of the success of the first book and movie, and they are absolutely unbearable. The most egregious of these offenses, in my opinion, manifests through Robert Paulson. The beloved character (canonically dead) frequently returns as some sort of stupid half-folktale-half-zombie. Multiple times in the story he either appears or is summoned by a group of people screaming "HIS NAME IS ROBERT PAULSON". I kid you not, a group of men in Project Mayhem literally throw their heads back and shout this phrase with their mouths agape à la Charlie Brown. I don't think I've ever cringed so hard at a comic book. The book makes various appeals to the fact that the first one was a cult classic, and recycles its memorable moments and inside jokes in a way that is not endearing - it's embarrassing. It's like Palahniuk is acknowledging that the story can't stand on its own two feet, so he resorts to pandering to fill in the gaps.
- Palahniuk wrote himself into the book. I considered putting this point first, because I feel it's the most important, but I decided it would be better to build up to this, because it is by far the most awful of this book's many sins. It's one thing to start an irreverent series that raises a big fat middle finger to classic storytelling conventions. That's a perfectly fine thing to do, and while it can be difficult to do right, it can give rise to some truly enjoyable reading/watching experiences when executed well (see also: Deadpool). It is another thing entirely to adopt that attitude after the first novel which did not employ that writing style. Palahniuk was already treading on thin ice when he decided to add in this bullcrap plot device, and his implementation of it is the metaphorical equivalent of doing backflips on said ice wearing jousting armor. Every forty pages or so, he and a team of writers (known as the "Write Club" - more of the embarrassing pandering) are shown discussing the events of the book as they occur. But that's not where it ends. The characters call him for plot advice multiple times, adding to the already-forced feeling of the narrative. At one point, Marla even shows up in-person, demanding that she be told where her son is. One of the other members of "Write Club" remarks that the situation was "bordering on being too meta", to which I would reply that no, it's not bordering. It passed bordering on being "too meta" when Palahniuk mentioned himself in the book the first time. When Marla arrived to talk with Palahniuk, it ceased to be a successor to one of my favorite stories. It became a poorly written, ill-conceived, worthless excuse for a fanfiction.
All told, this is probably the worst officially published thing I've ever read. I wish I had done more research and not been swept up into the hype. I wish I hadn't let the rose colored glasses impair my judgment. I wish I had not purchased or even read this book. Please do not make the same mistake I did, because it's honestly affected the way I look at the original Fight Club, and not in a good way.
Stay away from this cash grab.