When I saw Fight Club, I knew nothing about it, and expected something along the lines of Van Damme’s Lionheart. How surprised I was to find it a character drama, and strangely fulfilling, to boot. Having become a fan of Chuck Palahniuk, then, I read Choke, Lullaby, Stanger than Fiction, Survivor, and even posted “Guts.” And yet, oddly enough, I never got around to reading his first and most original, the indomitable Fight Club. After finding it in a dusty used book last August, it sat on my shelf until early this year, when I read it in preparation for a conference where I was presenting a paper about Palahniuk’s writing.
True to form, Fight Club reads like all of Palahniuk’s other books. It’s morbid, it’s jerky, it’s vague. This is not a criticism, merely me trying to elucidate his style. I was amazed, in fact, how faithfully David Fincher’s adaptation stayed true to the original. Granted, the movie sort of fudged the ending, and glossed over a few important themes (I’m thinking here specifically of the sort of post-apocalyptic imagery that Tyler Durden introduces). Still, I haven’t really seen an adaptation like this since Stephen King’s movies.
One wouldn’t expect polished prose from a former diesel mechanic, and you are treated with it. Reading Palahniuk is not like reading Fitzgerald: Chuck’s devices lie mostly in parallelism, repetition, and symbolism, coupled with the brute force of his character construction.
Fight Club appears to handle multiple themes. First, the apocryphal emasculative effect of materialism. Second, the excesses of the Men’s Movement. Thirdly, and most importantly, I think, is the Christ-figure status of the books antihero. Substantially, the book chronicles the rise of a cult-like organization dedicated to the reactualization of men by destroying that which it views as the cause of their fall: capitalism, materialism, comfort. Like many of this ilk, one is almost ready to agree with Durden’s cause. The self-denigrating sound bytes are wonderful: “I am the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.” Rebel. Proletariat. Yet one realizes (or one should realize, as the narrator does) the folly inherent to these causes and to these sheeplike drones that enter the movement. This book raises questions, but I think the moral here is unambiguous. It’s a condemnation of sheep. Take from that what you will.