The second rule of Fight Club is:
Therefore, I am not allowed to talk about this book and there is no review. The end.
Just kidding. I will do a review and the first little bit will be spoiler free, but then the spoilers will be freed. Ye be warned. There might be a good chance that you’ve seen the movie, so you’re probably already spoiled!
Title: Fight Club
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Genre: Fiction, Classics, Contemporary, Thriller
First published: 1996
MEH?! probably 2.5 out of 5?
I am not the biggest fan of the writing and I do not like writing with a lot of “Tyler said”, “Marla said”, “the Mechanic said” etc. There’s also a lot of repetition, and at times I feared I might have jumped back in my reading. There is probably a point to the repetition, but it took me out of my reading. I like the characters, the Fight Club and the commentary of how out of control one’s life is – even if it seems perfect. I did remove a star for using certain mental disorders as a plot device – I am not for it. So if you are into commentaries regarding society – and especially from a middle-class man’s perspective then go for it. This book is for you! I do believe this could be categorised as satire in how it deals with extremes, but I am not completely sure. If you’ve read this or are considering reading this please tell me what you think 🙂
Summary from Goodreads:
Chuck Palahniuk showed himself to be his generation’s most visionary satirist in this, his first book. Fight Club’s estranged narrator leaves his lackluster job when he comes under the thrall of Tyler Durden, an enigmatic young man who holds secret after-hours boxing matches in the basement of bars. There, two men fight “as long as they have to.” This is a gloriously original work that exposes the darkness at the core of our modern world.
About the author
Chuck Palahniuk – born Charles Michael Palahniuk, the 21st of February 1962 – is from Burbank, Washington. Early in his childhood, he lived out of a mobile home and when he was fourteen his parents divorced. This left Palahniuk and his siblings to spend most of their time with their maternal grandparents on their cattle ranch. Palahniuk didn’t know his paternal grandparents since they died when his father was a child. The grandfather shot and killed the grandmother due to an argument over the cost of a sewing machine. The father was three. This incident was pictured on the US cover of Stranger Than Fiction.
After graduating with a BA in journalism in 1986 he worked as a journalist for a local Portland newspaper. It was a job that didn’t suit him and he quit. Afterwards, he became a diesel mechanic. It was during his time as a mechanic he joined the Cacophony Society – which is said to be the inspiration for Project Mayhem in Fight Club. This was a group that would perform large-scale pranks in public places.
“The Cacophony Society is a randomly gathered network of individuals united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society through subversion, pranks, art, fringe explorations and meaningless madness.
You may already be a member!”
This is a counterculture activism group that was created by surviving members of the now-dead Suicide Club. So they exist to mess things up. I am unsure if it is for political reasons or just for funsies.
The spoilers will begin from here!
The book: little bit spoiler territory
We follow an unnamed Narrator. The Narrator works an office job, but while he works an office job, this job also contains travels where he investigates whether or not it is financially viable to send a specific model of car back or if it’s cheaper to just keep the car on the market and pay insurance when accidents happen. From an outside perspective, he lives a good life with that being a proper adult life – with a home right out of an Ikea-catalogue. Despite seemingly living a good life, he suffers from insomnia and depression. His existence is colourless, grey and empty. The only way for him to get some sleep is by going to support groups for terminally ill people. Here he is anonymous. If he doesn’t speak, people assume the worst and won’t ask questions. The Narrator gets the opportunity to hug and cry. This release of emotions help him with his insomnia and allows him to sleep, so for him to get to sleep he goes to several different support groups throughout the week.
“This is why I loved the support groups so much, if people thought you were dying, they gave you their full attention. If this might be the last time they saw you, they really saw you. Everything else about their checkbook balance and radio songs and messy hair went out the window. You had their full attention. People listened instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. And when they spoke, they weren’t just telling you a story. When the two of you talked, you were building something, and afterward you were both different than before.”
However, his sleep remedy is thwarted by the arrival of Marla Singer. She shows up at all of his support groups. In the Narrator’s own words: she’s a liar and a faker. She prevents him from being vulnerable and prevents him from crying. She prevents him from sleeping. After confronting her, they agree to split up their support groups so they won’t run into each other. After the Narrator’s encounter with Marla, he goes off on a business trip and it’s here he decides to go to a nude beach. It is on this beach he meets Tyler Durden – working on a project that will result in one minute of perfection.
“A minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.”
Upon returning home, the Narrator finds his flat destroyed in an explosion. Without any place to stay, he reaches out to Tyler – literally begging for his deliverance.
“Deliver me from Swedish furniture.
Deliver me from clever art.
And the phone rang and Tyler answered.
“If you don’t know what you want,” the doorman said, “you end up with a lot you don’t.”
May I never be complete.
May I never be content.
May I never be perfect.
Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete.”
Tyler agrees to take in our Narrator on one condition. He has to hit Tyler. And so the Fight Club was born. Tyler Durden and the Fight Club is a way out for the Narrator – a way out from his monotone existence and Ikea-furniture. What follows is a story about radicalism, reclaiming one’s masculinity, and culinary terrorism that just turns straight into actual terrorism. Oh, and a very confusing love triangle.
Even more spoiler territory!
If you’ve already seen the movie, you know that Tyler Durden actually is an alter of the Narrator. Meaning that Tyler is a second “personality” of the Narrator – which means that the Narrator suffers from Disassociative Identity Disorder. Alters stand for an “alternate state of identity”. Tyler is freedom from conventional life and freedom through violence.
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
The Narrator has lost control of his life and finding Tyler – living and being with Tyler frees him. It gives him a sense of control just being those two, beating each other up and connecting and reclaiming themselves as men with each other. There’s absolutely nothing homoerotic in this book… Earlier, I mentioned a very confusing love triangle. Tyler wants Marla, Marla wants the Narrator, and the Narrator wants Tyler. The Narrator acts as though he has the rights to claim Tyler – that Tyler belongs to him and it angers him, that he cannot control Tyler. The Narrator wants Tyler for himself and gets angry when Tyler starts spending time with Marla. When their Fight Club turns into an actual terrorist group – Project Mayhem – and Tyler spends all his time organizing and running the group, the Narrator obsesses about where Tyler is and why he hasn’t seen him. He hates how the members of Project Mayhem look up to and respect Tyler. Tyler has not only shown the Narrator how to take back his masculinity, but he has also shown to other men who were in the same situation as him how to take back their masculinity. There’s this infatuation from all of the men, they all blindly follow Tyler and are even willing to die for his cause. The cause continues to grow from empowering men to punishing society – pushing it down so that the men can get back to feeling like men. At least that’s my interpretation of it. Not only because of how destructive they are, but also because they use their strength and power to now manipulate society from behind the scenes. Project Mayhem even has men in the police force and they use the police to avoid getting caught. The Project grows to such a degree so the Narrator loses control over the situation. Even when he realises he is Tyler Durden and tries to put an end to the group – he no longer has control. In losing control, the Narrator loses contact with Tyler. It is revealed that the Narrator’s body never actually sleeps – when he thinks he is sleeping, Tyler takes over the body and has sex with Marla, organizes the Fight Club and plans Project Mayhem.
Already early on in the book, we start getting hints as to who Tyler is. Oftentimes the Narrator explains something – either about soap making or how to make a homemade bomb – and points out that he knows this because Tyler knows this. Other than this we also see how the men that show up – who clearly are members of the Fight Club – treat the Narrator with awe and respect, as if he is a very important person, perhaps even a leader. Even the way Marla acts gives this plot twist away – how she acts around the Narrator, as though they are closer than he thinks. He even dreams about having sex with her – which is just him remembering and coming through when Tyler is sleeping with her.
To say that Tyler is the Narrator is a plot twist might be exaggerating since it is so clear who he is from the writing and the storytelling. I don’t mind this at all, though. I don’t think a plot twist like this could have been done better in the book than in the movie, so seeing the Narrator’s journey from just learning to know Tyler, become possessive over him, losing him, and then realizing who Tyler is, I think is well done. Through this journey, the Narrator also gets to work and recognise his feelings for Marla. They both end up admitting to each other that they don’t per se “love” each other, but they definitely like each other. I did enjoy how this story was told, where the focus wasn’t on suddenly finding out that the Narrator and Tyler are one and the same, but the focus is on how much control the Narrator has lost. Even as the leader of the Fight Club, the project grows so big and strong so even when he tries to break it up the Club just continues. The members still have great respect for him as Tyler Durden, but they also admit to him, that he no longer has control of the situation. This is a story that focuses on being trapped. Of going from one extreme to another. Going through life – joyless, grey and depressed. Unable to sleep, where the only place to find solace is by anonymously hugging a stranger. We start with the Narrator lacking control over his life, feeling depressed and suffering from insomnia, to him gaining control over his life through Fight Club – getting the release he needs to feel alive, to him once again losing control.
My issues with this book: Using DID as a plot device
According to WebMD, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – previously known as multiple personality disorder – is what is thought to be a complex psychological condition that is likely caused by several factors mainly severe trauma during early childhood – usually extreme, repetitive physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. DID is a severe form of disassociation. Disassociation is a mental process that produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity. Regarding the aspect of dissociating, it is believed to be a coping mechanism where the person with DID completely shuts down and dissociates themselves from a situation – they’ve gone through something so violent, traumatic and painful so they shut themselves off from their conscious self. There isn’t evidence that suggests that people who live with DID are violent. This is a coping mechanism that helps them to live their lives – it has nothing to do with acting out towards other people, but to protect themselves from harmful or stressful situations.
The Narrator’s DID is explained as though Tyler always has been present, but there never has been a reason for him to step forward. Nowhere in the story is it suggested that the Narrator has had a traumatic childhood. His father left their family when he was a child to make a new family. This was something his father did repeatedly – leave, start a new family, leave again and it repeats over and over again. Other than that, there are no signs of repetitive traumatic abuse that could cause him to awaken an alter. Even though he might have had such experiences, alters are there to protect the host. They’re there for the host, and make sure that the host is alright, but Tyler only appears after they’ve met Marla. This is where the weird love triangle begins, because Tyler loves Marla, and that is the reason why he stepped forward. It has nothing to do with the Narrator. You could argue that Tyler is the subconscious of the Narrator and is acting upon the Narrator’s true feelings. There can be made arguments that the Narrator – as the host – doesn’t know that he has been a victim of repetitive abuse as a child, and since he doesn’t know that Tyler exists, Tyler could be taking over the body at night – hence the lack of sleep and energy. But again, Tyler admitted to only front when Marla arrived. To be honest, reading this book, it does not seem like there has been put too much energy or research into using DID as a story telling device. It’s a plot point and honestly, I am not okay with that. There is a tendency to use mental disorders as a tool that either stigmatise or diminish peoples’ experiences for the sake of a story – which spreads misinformation and only hurt those who just want to live their lives.
I have very mixed feelings about this book – which especially stems from my knowledge of DID – even though that knowledge is limited. However, the commentary on the emasculation of men and how one feels trapped and unhappy in today’s society is interesting. I like how Tyler’s solution to this is to fuck shit up – pardon my French. He is fixing one extreme with another extreme. For me, reading this book makes it feels like it is all fun and games for Tyler. Yes, he argues for why they should terrorise the society – in a very “stick it to the man” way. They’re just taking it too far and that for Tyler is all part of it.
Fight Club for me revolves around two subjects. The prison that is the acceptable adult life – with its lack of excitement and just being – of course with all of the appropriate furniture and condiments. The second subject – for me – is the issue surrounding DID and how it is portrayed in entertainment and media. The media uses DID as a plot device – that last twist to throw off its audience. As mentioned before, the sad truth is, that individuals who live with the disorder are not violent. The fact that it is thought to stem from repeated trauma in childhood – that DID is a coping mechanism that the brain has created in order for the child to survive their situation – just makes it so much sadder.
I know this book is from a different time – but 1996 isn’t THAT long time ago – and DID was known to originate from childhood trauma in the ’80s and ’90s. However, even though this was known back then, it probably wasn’t public knowledge. People today still misunderstand depression and anxiety disorders, so the fact that DID is being villainised shouldn’t surprise me.
I had a lot of fun writing this review – I have a tendency to get a bit into what I am doing at times. Unfortunately, it is time for my bi-monthly sinus-issues, so it was a bit of a struggle finishing the post. It’s been a good distraction, though, and I’ve only worked on the post when I was feeling awake enough. All of the naps have been taken, and there has been no insomnia issues. I still look like this most of the time:
I might have a GIF-problem, but I just think it’s a nice break from the text.
If you’ve read the book, please tell me what you think, if you’ve noticed anything I’ve missed or something exciting 🙂
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