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Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk is the author of many novels including Fight Club, which was made into a movie directed by David Fincher, as well as Invisible Monsters, Snuff, Lullaby, Choke, Pygmy, and Survivor. He lives in Washington.

Blurbs

"Fight Club offers diabolically sharp and funny writing."

– Washington Post Book World

"A powerful, dark, original novel . . . a memorable debut by an important new writer."

– Robert Stone

"An astonishing debut. . . . Fight Club is a dark, unsettling, and nerve-chafing satire."

– Seattle Times

"Caustic, outrageous, bleakly funny, violent and always unsettling . . . will make even the most jaded reader sit up and take notice."

– Publishers Weekly

"This brilliant bit of nihilism succeeds where so many self-described transgressive novels do not: It's dangerous because it's so compelling."

– Kirkus Reviews

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Fight Club

Breaking Bones for Meaningful Marrow

12/07/11

Like many people, I discovered Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 debut novel, Fight Club, after seeing its film counterpart (released in 1999). I loved the absurd sexuality, violence, and profanity of the film (which, considering that I was 12 years old, made me a stereotype). I thought that the book would be equally awesome. And it was. However, while most of my peers enjoyed only these same superficial qualities, I recognized that there was more to Fight Club. A lot more.

Fast-forward ten years and I’m currently teaching Fight Club at the same university where I earned my BA two years ago. I chose to teach the book for three reasons: (1) it is ripe for discussion, (2) it was pivotal in my decision to become a writer, and (3) Requiem for a Dream is too complex structurally and American Psycho is way too violent (right?). In any case, I felt confident that Fight Club would provide enlightenment, engagement, and entertainment for my students.

The main themes Fight Club examines are the soapbox effect of religion and the horrors of cult mentality. Fight club begins one night when the narrator and Tyler start beating each other up outside of a bar. Eventually, they hold meetings in the basement of another bar, and week after week, more and more people come. Tyler and the narrator compile a list of rules, and we’re told how men from every walk of life exorcise their demons and frustrations by beating each other. They’re rebelling against conformity and society. The narrator says, “fight club exists only in the hours between when fight club starts and when fight club ends.”

Eventually, the members wear their bruises and stitches (as well as Tyler’s burned kiss, which is an entirely different issue) like badges of honor; they’re committed to the club. As the novel progresses, Tyler begins starting more and more fight clubs without the narrator’s knowledge. About halfway through the book, the narrator meets an old friend, Big Bob, whom he knew from a cancer support group. Bob informs him that he no longer goes to support groups because he’s found something better:

“there’s a new group . . . called fight club . . . it meets every Friday night. . . . On Thursday nights, there’s another fight club . . . the rules [were] invented by the guy who invented fight club. . . . I’ve never seen him myself, but the guy’s name is Tyler Durden. Do you know him?”

Naturally, the narrator has no idea that Tyler is starting a cult, and eventually, fight club becomes the catalyst for Project Mayhem (and then the sh!t really hits the fan!).

While examining religion and cults through subtext would be enough for one novel, Palahniuk doesn’t stop there. He also criticizes American materialism, considers self-preservation vs. self-destruction, and combats injustice within social hierarchy. Oh, and he interweaves the foundations of Marxism with the foulness of mixing food with bodily fluids. It’s simultaneously perverse and profound.

Going beyond its social commentary, Fight Club is notable for its brilliant (and arguably impossible) twist. Throughout the book, the skewed relationship between Tyler and the narrator is complemented by ambiguous statements and odd symmetry. Once readers understand what’s really going on, everything changes, and it’s fascinating to reread the book and discover all the foreshadowing and symbolism Palahniuk places so smoothly. As my classes and I discuss the book every Monday afternoon, I’m consistently amazed at how lines like “Tyler’s words coming out of my mouth” and “If you ever mention me to her, you’ll never see me again” go completely over their heads.

While Fight Club isn’t technically Palahniuk’s first novel (his third, Invisible Monsters, actually predates it), it’s likely his most complex and important. Underneath all the depravity, violence, and dark, dark humor, Palahniuk investigates human nature and critiques the way we live our lives.

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7 Comments

  1. Alex M. Pruteanu said on 12/07/11 at 9:20 am Reply

    Yea, I loved this book as well. Along with his “Survivor” and “Choke,” Fight Club is my fave. I love the dynamic prose, and some of the same themes you mention in this column, he goes on to explore further in “Survivor” and “Choke.” Also a fantastic read is his book “Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories,” a collection of essays/interviews/true stories.

    Reply

  2. Jordan Blum said on 12/07/11 at 12:04 pm Reply

    I’m familiar with them all. I actually think “Invisible Monsters” is his best.

    Reply

  3. Jordan Blum said on 12/07/11 at 12:17 pm Reply

    Oh, and since my students may read this, by “goes over their heads,” I meant that Palahniuk does such a great job of suggesting double meanings and secrets, not that anyone is unintelligent for not getting it the first time round 🙂 ha-ha

    Reply

  4. Nathan Goldman said on 12/07/11 at 10:05 pm Reply

    What class are you teaching it for?

    Reply

    Jordan Blum said on 12/08/11 at 9:32 pm

    I just finished teaching two College Reading courses at Rider University. We read Fight Club, a text book on improving college reading, and various essays about F.C.

  5. Richard Thomas said on 12/31/11 at 11:38 am Reply

    Yeah, one of my favorites by CP. I’d agree with Alex, that Choke and Survivor are probably his best work, IMO, but this and IM come in right after that. Those four, they are his best work to date, if you ask me. His latest work has fallen short. Couldn’t read Pygmy, or Tell-All, and Damned didn’t pull me in like I wanted it to. But I loved Rant, even Snuff was worth the cheap laughs. FC is an important book, and one that holds up really well even if you’ve seen the film. It’s easy to get sucked into this prose, his voice. And it’s easy to re-read over and over again. Great review, Jordan.

    Reply

    Jordan Blum said on 01/05/12 at 1:44 am

    Thanks!

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