Finished Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk last night. I've never read a novel that I could not put down, until now. This is hands down the quickest I've ever read a book, which is saying something coming from an achingly slow reader like me.
Quickie Amazon Summary: Featuring soap made from human fat, waiters at high-class restaurants who do unmentionable things to soup and an underground organization dedicated to inflicting a violent anarchy upon the land, Palahniuk's apocalyptic first novel is clearly not for the faint of heart. The narrator gets into a love triangle of sorts with Tyler Durden, a mysterious and gleefully destructive young man with whom the narrator starts a fight club, a secret society that offers young professionals the chance to beat one another to a bloody pulp. Mayhem ensues, beginning with the narrator's condo exploding and culminating with a terrorist attack on the world's tallest building.
This is, without a doubt, the most mental book I’ve ever read. It is so unlike anything I’ve ever picked up before. It is ruled almost entirely on the basis of creating anarchy in a structured, docile society. Tyler Durden constantly reminds us of his know-how on all things explosive, from making dynamite and napalm, to rigging computers to detonate when they’re turned on. He starts a fight club in a basement, which gradually gains so many members that chapters sprout up all over the country. They have rules and committees, even homework assignments that members must complete that include things like destroying a historical landmark or making a human sacrifice. All of this begs several questions, like what then, after everything is destroyed and dead? When society has completely collapsed, what is the end goal?
Tyler Durden is irritatingly cautious about giving out too much information. He only says “5th Rule: You have to trust Tyler Durden.”
It is only when I wondered what his end goal could possibly be that he gave it to me, which was fascinating and terrifying. As a reader, it was at this point that I began to feel as if Tyler Durden, and only Tyler Durden, was in control. Such a strange mix of emotions from that. On another note, the end goal is completely selfish. But Chuck Palahniuk doesn’t hide that fact.
I posed another question, which in retrospect is nonsense, but I couldn’t help wonder. The narrator (whom is never given a name in the entire novel, I found out to my complete inattentive surprise ¾ way through the novel) suffers from insomnia. He struggles to cope with it at work, his home life, so on and so forth. But he says “after Fight Club, you just do not care. Nothing matters to you.” If someone bumps him on the street, he brushes it off, no problem, because he had Fight Club. He began to stand up to his boss, tell him off to his face, because he had Fight Club. The little things didn’t bother him and he didn’t take shit from anyone, which he amusingly wrapped up every time with “I used to be such a nice person.”
My question posed afterward then was, do we as a society rely on the little irritations in life to avoid complete anarchy? The hate we feel when someone cuts us off in traffic, or the resentment we feel when someone of authority tells us what to do. Perhaps we need that, because the alternative could be some Fight Club/Project Mayhem-esque societal structure that brings humanity back to the Stone Age. Does the world need to be fixed, as Tyler Durden so convincingly professes? Is this is way to do it?
On that note, I couldn’t help but imagine the possible repercussions after the release of a book such as this. For God’s sake, anyone who is Tyler Durden-like minded could pick up this novel and see it as more than a work of fiction. They may see it as a recipe book of sorts, an instruction manual for those seeking to bring destruction to society and what it values. Could this book promote anarchy?
This was pleasingly addressed in the novel’s afterward by the author, and those “repercussions” were far worse than I could have dreamt as it turns out. But Palahniuk’s response to all the backlash he’s received is summed up in his own “First Rule of Fight Club” which is not, in fact, do not talk about Fight Club. He says instead that “there is nothing a blue-collar nobody in Oregon with a public school education can imagine that a million-billion people haven't already done."
One of my favorite particular moments was from page 154, when the narrator makes what he calls a human sacrifice. He pulls a gun on a random stranger, and tell him he’ll kill him tonight. The stranger, sobbing and begging for his life, is asked if you could do anything in the world, how would you spend your life? After some prodding the stranger says he wished he had studied to become a veterinarian. The narrator takes the strangers license, and lets the stranger go, telling him that he would be checking up on him to make sure he was studying to become a vet. He knew where the stranger lived from the address on the driver’s license, and if he wasn’t actively trying to become a vet, he would come back and kill him. This was extremely powerful to me, because it was taking the concept of epiphanies after near-death experiences and forcing it on people for their own good. It’s sickening to think that maybe that’s what we need to stop lollygagging and really chase our dreams. A gun to our heads.
The entire novel just took me by surprise. I was caught in this mental web of lunacy that Palahniuk spun. I’m left wondering how he accomplished this. How can someone so perfectly encapsulate a mental/physiological disease, someone who’s never suffered from said disease? What a completely unnerving thought.
After reading this novel, it’s glaringly apparent that anarchy is more than just a theme. The book ITSELF is complete anarchy. The narrator, who is the predominant speaker, never once has quotation marks when he speaks. Only his alter ego, further advertising Tyler Durden’s control over him. Rather than a smooth transition between crucial events, the chapters jump from one important event to the next without hesitation. There is never any discernible point of view throughout the story, switching between first and third person without warning.
This book feels like it was written as a movie, and is one of the most visually appealing pieces I’ve ever read. If you want to challenge and question everything you’ve ever felt about your sanity or the current structure of your society, pick up this book. Isn’t that what reading’s all about?
Quote: “Maybe self-improvement isn't the answer, maybe self-destruction is the answer.”
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Next novel: 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
Tyler (not Durden)