Fight Club

by Chuck Palahniuk

Though it feels at least a bit silly to write up a synopsis for a book as famous as Fight Club, a review without a synopsis conversely feels incomplete. (Those who don’t believe me are welcome to check out some of my older reviews in which I believed synopses to be frivolous.) Besides, it’s been a long time since I heard anyone make mention of Fight Club, so perhaps there exists someone who hasn’t yet read the book or seen the movie? Anyway, in the midst of a prolonged, crippling bout of insomnia and an existential crisis, an unnamed narrator’s condo explodes, along with all his worldly possessions, in an accident while he’s out of town. He ends up moving in with a guy he met on a nude beach: the infamous, captivating, anarchist philosopher, Tyler Durden. Fight Club follows the pair as they start organizing brutal underground boxing matches and slowly discover how pervasive the narrator’s feelings of powerlessness are in modern society, the power that ideas can hold over the directionless, and the frightening depths people will go to chase some sort of purpose.

I recall during my previous reading of Fight Club, around a decade ago, how strongly some of the book’s philosophical and ideological discussions affected me, so it’s interesting that I was hit with a notion that things were deceptive or even on the verge of dangerous this time around. Perhaps it has more to do with a change in me––that I’m less of an idealist, that I tend to romanticize seductive concepts less, or that I maybe have my act together better than I did then––but I would suggest it has something to do with Palahniuk’s writing. In marrying what strikes me as sound philosophy with the grotesque, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that senseless acts of destruction to the self and the outside world are somehow cool, commendable, or even heroic. Though, I suppose I would also partially blame the film as well. Having watched it multiple times before my original reading, I strongly suspect I neglected to properly take in what the author described in favour of the related images I remembered or the feelings associated with them, and it’s interesting how effectively a similar technique was employed within book and movie to help audiences to overlook the gore. (Oh, the film was definitely gory, but the worst of it was arguably always tied to something obviously heroic or happy or funny, for example, and it just didn’t feel quite so terrible as a result––though my wife would likely disagree with me on this point. Plus, the killing was almost entirely removed from the movie, which likely helped to make things a bit less sinister, at least until the narrator realizes the extent to which Tyler took everything and the director clearly changes gears to make things out to be scary.)

It took me at least a couple of chapters to get into Fight Club this time, with the early writing coming across almost gimmicky, hollow attempts to grab my attention. A decade ago, I recall it holding me right out the gate, so this likely has something to do with me being some kind of jaded literary snob this time around, also meaning that briefly feeling bogged down is unlikely to be particularly meaningful as a judge of the quality of the book as a whole. And even with that criticism, the feeling was definitely brief, leaving us with an exciting, compelling story that moves along at a great clip and remains hugely unique.