Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk)

Based on my own understanding, Chuck Palahniuk is one of those writers that really "cool, edgy" people latch onto. He writes about weird subject matters with characters that are all sorts of damaged and fringe. Fight Club was the author's first novel, but it's not the first I've read. That would be the bizarre, bad-but-also-badly-good Snuff, a book about shooting a porn that involves one woman and six hundred men--I selected it with the intentions of reading Palahniuk's worst book and then his best according to their Goodreads ratings, an "honor" which belong to Snuff at the time of my decision but now belongs to Tell-All (curiously, it would appear that the author's ability to write has only decreased since his first novel, as the ratings on Goodreads, which I'm clearly trusting as accurate, show a markedly downward trend).

Even before I decided three years ago (which shows you how good I am at getting around to reading things) to dabble in Palahniuk, I had wanted to read Fight Club. I knew a lot of people who were really into the movie, so I figured that the book would by extension be better and therefore really good. And I liked it, I really did. The premise of the novel is that the narrator, who goes unnamed, has feelings of worthlessness and emptiness in his life. He begins to attend therapy groups for things like brain parasites and testicle cancer survivors, illnesses he's never experienced, because being so close to death make him cry, and when he can cry, he can sleep: insomnia is a nightly battle for him. He notices a woman coming to these meetings, too--Marla Singer--and they agree to split the meetings in order to both achieve the closeness to death.

Eventually, he meets a man named Tyler Durden. Shortly thereafter, his apartment is destroyed and he moves in with Durden on the condition that the narrator punches him as hard as he can. It's not long after this that the two men create Fight Club, where men go to hit each other. There are rules--the famous "The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club", etc.--that govern this club, and in the meanwhile Marla involves herself with Tyler and Tyler starts a soap company. Eventually Fight Club stops being enough for some people, so Tyler creates Project Mayhem as a more powerful outlet and it's at this point that things get a bit dangerous. Which is a lame way to end my plot summary but I do not even know how to explain the plot.

Palahniuk's style of writing, something for which I think he receives both praise and criticism, is the first thing that sticks out in my mind. It's very spare (OMG look how savvy I am) and minimalistic; my problem with it is while it's at first fresh, it quickly loses its value. The lack of linearity/temporal focus that I realize is supposed to be evocative of the narrator's internal instability coupled with the writing that feels like it's refusing to tell us crucial information is frustrating. The beginning of the book is really hard to figure out and I never felt like I should have been working to understand it.

The characters, however, are fascinating slices of damaged pie. I suspect that this, too, might be an issue if you read more than one of Palahniuk's books, though; I bet that a lot of his characters are just slightly recast versions of what we encounter here, imitations that are never going to parallel the enthralling dysfunction captured in Fight Club. At the same time, I felt like I didn't know them well enough to truly care--I would have loved to explore them a little more, to get more direct representations of them than the narrator provides.

Conceptually, too, the novel was interesting, if a bit heavy-handed and puppety (by which I mean the author used his characters like puppets). I suspect that I was not as blown away as I ought to have been because I already knew the plot twist before I read the book. I'm curious to know what it would be like to read the book without knowing. In general, I would have liked less attention on the fight club and its surrounding philosophy--I know the novel's called Fight Club, but I was not as interested in all of that as maybe I ought to have been.

In the end, I'm just not sure how I feel about this novel. I liked it? I think? It was sometimes frustrating to read and did not captivate my attention like I felt it wanted to--despite being a short book, I felt like there was just a little too much going on for me to fully latch on. Read it, I guess? I don't know. I'm really perplexed about my own feelings. More about the characters, please. You made them interesting and then dumped them to spiral into some kind of rant about father figures. I think.

My rating: 3.5/5
Fight Club on Goodreads
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