April 18, 2009

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

You've probably seen the movie, and possibly didn't even realize it was based on a book. I know I didn't. As in most book-to-movie situations, this book gives a lot of insight into characters and situations that simply aren't possible to express in film. I'll get to that in a minute.

Fight Club is the story of two male friends who start a club that basically involves beating the crap out of each other. The club is oddly successful and begins to branch out nationally, meeting in bars and basements. But as the men get accustomed to fighting they want more, and they progress to acts of domestic terrorism. Can they be stopped? Can the founders cope with the monster they've created?

There's so much more to it, but to bring it up would ruin the surprise elements. If you've seen the movie you have an idea of what I mean.

One of the most interesting aspects of reading this book for me was that the character of Marla Singer is so clearly Helena Bonham-Carter. I always thought Carter had been an odd choice for that role, having come from her background of Historical romance flicks, but it seems almost as though the character was written with her in mind.

Now for what the film doesn't explain that the book does. The narrator, whose name is never given, is an insomniac. He goes to a doctor for relief and is basically blown off. The doctor tells him that losing sleep is no big deal, if he wants to know what real trouble is like he should drop in at a cancer support group. So he does, and finds that somehow the support the group provides allows him to sleep. So he goes to a different one every night of the week, for two years. Then he meets Tyler, who changes everything by saying one night, "I want you to hit me as hard as you can." And Fight Club is born.

Fight Club is not a mindless sport club. Although the premise is simple, it provides for masses of men what the support groups provided for the narrator. Men who are powerless, stuck in dead end lives, are empowered and gain a vitality they never knew before. Fight Club fills a huge void.

I don't remember how the film ended, but the book ends beautifully, the narrator having discovered the truth about his friend and the trap he is caught in. But is this discovery an escape or a bigger trap?

Some quotes:

May I never be complete. May I never be content. May I never be perfect. Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete.

After a night in fight club, everything in the real world gets the volume turned down. Nothing can piss you off. Your word is law, and if other people break that law or question you, even that doesn't piss you off.

You aren't alive anywhere like you're alive at fight club.... Fight club isn't about winning or losing fights. Fight club isn't about words. You see a guy come to fight club for the first time, and his ass is a loaf of white bread. You see this same guy here six months later, and he looks carved out of wood. This guy trusts himself to handle anything. There's grunting and noise at fight club like at the gym, but fight club isn't about looking good. There's hysterical shouting in tongues like at church, and when you wake up Sunday afternoon you feel saved.

For thousands of years, human beings had screwed up and trashed and crapped on this planet, and now history expected me to clean up after everyone. I have to wash out and flatten my soup cans. And account for every drop of used motor oil. And I have to foot the bill for nuclear waste and buried gasoline tanks and landfilled toxic sludge dumped a generation before I was born.

I see the strongest and the smartest men who have ever lived... and these men are pumping gas and waiting tables.

We don't have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do, we have a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives. We have a spiritual depression.

"What you have to understand, is your father was your model for God. If you're male and you're Christian and living in America, your father is your model for God. And if you never know your father, if your father bails out and dies or is never at home, what do you believe about God?"

"We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we'll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won't. And we're just learning this fact. So don't fuck with us."


  1. I haven't seen this movie yet, don't ask me why. But I do want to read the book. (and see the movie) really great review!!

  2. Oh, I just love this book, too! It really makes you think. And I found the movie to be a great companion piece to the novel (though I did like the end of the book better). The movie was just so well cast and acted, and I think seeing it actually expands upon the book.

    Unfortunately, the more recent novels by Palahniuk have been more "shock-value" and less "make you think" (in my opinion, of course). But I'll leave you with a quote from Lullaby (another section that made me think!):

    "Experts in ancient Greek culture say that people back then didn't see their thoughts as belonging to them. When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Appolo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love. Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy, but now they call this free will."

  3. Palahniuk is one of my favorite authors, despite the 'raunch' factor in some of his novels. In my opinion, Rant is by far his very best - followed by this book.

    Palahniuk's life story is full of horrible experiences, and you really touch on so much of that in his books. I have to admire that spark in him that makes him push the envelope. What a fighter!

    Fabulous review, thank you!


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