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Friday, November 20, 2009

review: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk


Fight Club
by Chuck Palahniuk

The first rule about fight club is you don't talk about fight club.
Chuck Palahniuk's outrageous and startling debut novel that exploded American literature and spawned a movement. Every weekend, in the basements and parking lots of bars across the country, young men with white-collar jobs and failed lives take off their shoes and shirts and fight each other barehanded just as long as they have to. Then they go back to those jobs with blackened eyes and loosened teeth and the sense that they can handle anything. Fight club is the invention of Tyler Durden, projectionist, waiter, and dark, anarchic genius, and it's only the beginning of his plans for violent revenge on an empty consumer-culture world.

adult fiction ; speculative { genre
R for violence and sexual content { rating
August 19, 1996 { first released
W.W. Norton paperback (218 pages) { review edition
bought at full price { acquisition
Amazon.com ; Amazon.ca ; IndieBound ; Book Depository { purchase links

Why I Read This
Assigned for my Media Theory: Consumerism class.

First Lines
Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler's pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die. For a long time though, Tyler and I were best friends. People are always asking, did I know about Tyler Durden.

Overall Rating
☂☂☂☂

A psychological thriller with overt critique on consumerism and wasteful spending, as well as the meaning of being a man in a "generation of men raised by women". The narrator is unintentionally funny in the deadpan way, and while the story skips between events and timelines, it is all the more like you are living inside his insomnia-plagued head. The twist at about two-thirds of the way in was very well played, and ties together a lot of the quirks and seemingly innocently repeated lines since the beginning. There are blatant statements of misogyny towards women, but then again this book details all the wrong ways consumer madness can go. Very effective as a critique, but also works as a grossly intricate and thrilling story.

review posted at Amazon.ca, Book Depository, goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari

Plot/Themes
☂☂☂.5

Another assigned book in my Consumerism class, but unlike Kingdom Come, this read as less like a glorified essay and more like...a glorified psych report. An incredibly enjoyable one though!
Many of the characters in this book want to die, or are willing to die for the first worthwhile reason they come across. However, there are very few actual deaths in the story, and none of them are particularly heroic. This is a book about men who are gathered together so they could find true "masculinity" through beating the crap out of each other and committing "assignments" of terrorism. The setting spans across cancer and fatal disease support groups, the extravagant dinner parties of the upper class, an office building, and a run-down house used to manufacture overpriced soap. There are many direct criticisms of lavish spending and identity through objects, as well as great little bits of historical facts that act almost like metaphors, such as the sacrificial origins of soap. The narrator also works as a car recall manager and sees the corrupt business-minded way his employers ignore fatalities caused by unstable parts if the profit margin is threatened.
There is a lot of gore and grossness (urinating in food for example), though very little sexual content, which contributes to amplifying the gritty rawness of the themes. Even creepier towards the end, Fight Club ends up spreading so much that the creator cannot control what he's created.

Characters
☂☂☂.5

The narrator of this book has no name. He never mentions it, maybe because people rarely need to when they're thinking about themselves, and it actually completely escaped my notice at the beginning (until of course I remembered I had a quiz on it and tried to find a name that didn't exist...) Now, I'm not usually a fan of unreliable narrators, but this was a huge exception. Joe (it's the only name-ish label he's ever applied to himself, but you never know if it's really his name) is an insomniac, which sort of explains his bipolar moods and scattered thought processes. He is also rather lacking in emotion, whether from the futility of his job or his feeling of entrapment in the lavish furniture he buys. He does try to circumvent this, by participating in cancer and fatal illness support groups, where no one asks and everyone gives you their full attention in case you die the next day. As the book progresses, we see him leaving his old life behind and literally moving in to Tyler's world of service industry terrorism, making soap and bombs, and of course Fight Club. I really loved this character, with his snarky thoughts, spontaneous haiku, and passive fuming. By the end of the book however, he's often repeating the phrase, "and I used to be such a nice person." It sort of encapsulates the slow progression and ascension of violence in the book that led to, not relief, but even more violence.
Tyler Durden on the other hand, is kind of like Joe's surrogate father figure. The idea of a "generation of men raised by women," and "if you're white, Christian, and live in America, your father is your model for God," is very pronounced in their relationship. Tyler gets Joe to act out his frustrations by creating Fight Club. He teaches Joe to punish the rich for their wasteful spending. He shows Joe how soap and bombs were made. There are many many hints dropped all over the book since Tyler and Joe's first meeting as to who Tyler really is, and it is very fun to go back and reread some passages in a completely new light. I have to say I liked both Joe and Tyler equally, where one is weak the other is strong, but they're both kind of bordering on psychotic.
Marla is the girl between the guys. But she's neither the perfect girlfriend nor the patient lover. She's equally as sick of the world as our two leads, and meets Joe at many of the support group meetings. Joe dislikes her because she can see that he's faking. Tyler likes her and they both think they're "human butt wipe." Despite the opening chapter, the there is very little "love" through most of the book. Marla steps in at times when she can't find anywhere else to stay, and isn't afraid to speak up when Tyler's plans get too crazy. I have to say I liked Marla because, even though she fantasizes about death and saves up fanatically for collagen implants, she is very similar to Joe in that she is striving to "feel" something.
These three characters make up the main narrative of the story, with recurring side characters coming up now and again. I really liked Big Bob, and the pretty-face, even though they weren't given much attention outside plot devices. Most of the other "space monkeys" (Tyler's sacrificial followers) were scarily vague in description, they can be anyone: laywers, police, teachers, taxi drivers, the guy next door. It gives the sense that they're all a homogenized mob, despite their different positions.

Writing
☂☂☂☂☂

I've mentioned before how the action is very graphic and raw, well so is the writing. The author's style establishes many different rhythms, using ticking time (ex. "Five minutes." *something happens* "Four minutes." *something else happens* and so on), deliberate repetition (ex. "Faker. Faker. Faker." or the phrase "I know this because Tyler knows this"), and narrative quirks (ex. the narrator keeps referring to himself as personified body parts, like "I am Joe's Clenching Bowels" or "I am Joe's Inflamed Flaring Nostrils"). The writing itself is also very stylistic, and oftentimes sporadic considering the narrator is an insomniac. Some of the thoughts occur much like we would think in our heads, with pauses between words and every sentence a new piece of thought, or a paraphrase to elaborate on a previous one. It was very effective in getting me inside Joe's head and I enjoyed it very much.

Ending
☂☂☂☂

I must say first that I was very impressed with how the author used almost the exact same text in the first chapter and the second last chapter, but they held completely different meanings after the reader has gone through the events leading up to it. It provides satisfaction in terms of resolving the "why", and may have worked as the actual last chapter in which the future is uncertain.
However, the author chose to append a short conclusion to Joe's story arc that, instead of acting as an "ending" for the entire story, actually hints at the "beginning" of something even more sinister.
(For people who read manga, it's kind of like the end of Death Note 8D)

Meme Features
Booking Through Thursday: Twisty
Cover Cravings: Hands
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3 comments:

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

Lulz nice review! I could never talk about this book properly. I just go up to ppl and go like "it's craaaaaaaaaaaazy, craaaaaaaaazy i tell you! READ IT." that's about as eloquent as I get about Palaniuk.

Are you gonna try reading his other stuff?! *nudges you*

miss cindy :) said...

I've wanted to read this forever, and I still haven't. Great review :)

ninefly said...

@ ah yuan
lol but "it's CRAAAAAZZZZZZZY" doesn't even do this book justice! it's a very deep and philosophical and smart-ish book!
I'll be checking out his other stuff, but first gotta work through the MASSIVE TBR PILE OF DOOM that's sitting on my desk right now before it topples over and saves...er, I mean, ~*inconveniences*~ me from exams

@ miss cindy
you should definitely try it out! it's one of those books that make you feel very satisfied when you're done, maybe because the "big reveal" is just so wonderfully tied up with the beginning of the book and all the way towards the end =)