Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

I didn’t see Fight Club, the movie, until a few years after its 1999 release, and afterward I was compelled to go to the source and read Fight Club, the book. It was my first exposure to Palahniuk’s writing, which is certainly recognizable in its style and voice. The story seems simple enough to start: the narrator, unsatisfied with his life, follows his new friend Tyler Durden on a quest to “hit bottom.” They start with fight clubs, where men who feel neutered by their lives beat each other to a pulp in order to feel alive. The men eventually graduate to Project Mayhem, an anarchist collective that wants to burn the world down and start over. Throughout, there are details about how to make napalm, and how to neutralize a lye burn, and how film projectors work. It’s a fascinating novel, and gripping, certainly.

It’s also brutal. Amidst the graphic descriptions of faces getting mashed in and bodies beaten senseless are some bleak nihilistic ruminations, which would be less powerful if they were simply depressing, but no; the narrator’s voice is also darkly humorous. Palahniuk kicks you while you are down, but he doesn’t leave you laying there; he lifts you back up with humor, and that motivates you to not abandon the narrator entirely.

Not everyone is a fan of Palahniuk’s writing style, and that’s perfectly understandable. I, myself, can’t say that I seek out a lot of his writing; after this and Choke I found myself feeling like “Okay, I get it.” But he’s definitely good at inhabiting damaged characters, and with this being his first novel, there is a bit of freshness to his staccato phrasing and patois that makes the shtick seem a bit more authentic than it does in the later novels. So if you haven’t already read this one, and saw and liked the movie, I’d recommend it.

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