Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk – A First Novel with Punch

We are getting into some serious dick-lit here. There’s so much testosterone gumming up the pages of this thriller, you could tear ’em out, chew ’em up, and throw away your Cialis prescription. Here’s the story in a nutshell:

Guy can’t sleep. Chronic insomnia. He’s suffering. Shrink tells him he’s a wimp. “Why don’t you go to a cancer patient support group so you can see what real suffering is?” Guy goes to a testicular cancer support group. The ploy works. Guy sees that men with no balls are in bad shape, making his complaints about sleeplessness pale by comparison. What’s insomnia compared to having your nuts chopped off?

(Note:  Guy’s name is not “Guy.” We never learn his name, so I’ll just call him “Guy.” It’s faster than typing “Narrator.”)

Guy meets girl (Marla) at the testicular cancer support group. (Don’t ask…) She’s the love interest, minor character, not developed much, but necessary for plot thickening.

Far more important than the babe is Guy’s best friend, Tyler. Tyler also has testosterone issues. He convinces Guy that instead of attending meetings for dudes with no balls, they should start a club where guys go to punch each other for no reason, because this would really prove to the world they’ve got balls.

The club is a big hit and soon fight clubs are popping up in bars all over the country, proving once and for all that guys have balls. In cities throughout the world, guys with black eyes and missing teeth and cauliflower ears are passing each other on the street and giving each other the secret fight-club handshake. It’s awesome! It’s a movement!

But Tyler has bigger plans. Project Mayhem is born. Tyler goes to hospitals where fat people get liposuction and he steals the discarded fat so he can add lye and make human-fat-based soap. If there’s one thing Tyler knows, it’s how to respond to market demand. He hires a bunch of midgets to work in his soap factory, while he busies himself doing even more nefarious things.

At this point, I gotta know something. I’ve been wondering this for years. Is the film faithful to the book? I never saw the film, but I do wonder if all this stuff is in there. In the book, Guy walks around with a hole in his cheek for the last half of the story, a result of one of his exploits to prove he has balls. So Guy has balls but his face looks pretty fucked up. I mean he can stick his tongue through the hole and scare the shit out of little kids. In the movie, does Ed Norton actually walk around with a hole in his cheek? Can you actually see his teeth through the side of his face when his mouth is closed?

Maybe you’ve seen this book at Barnes and Noble and you considered buying it, but decided against it because you tried reading a Palahniuk novel in the past and couldn’t get any further than the first chapter. But Fight Club isn’t like Palahniuk’s other novels. Fight Club was his first novel. Those other books were written after the critics told him he was a great writer, so, naturally, he stopped making sense. Maybe you tried to read Pygmy, got as far as page three, where the narrator says,

Operative me, am agitating vast fist of cow father, while free hand of this agent reach to acquire security badge. Next now, host cow father say, “Whoa there, little fella.” Say, “No touchy,” and father touching badge, tapping laminate card flat against own cow-stinking chest, say, “Top secret.” In talk breath of Viagra, reek of Procepia and mint chew gum.

And since this is pretty much the way pages one and two read, you give up, feeling like, what the fuck is this shit? Pygmy is a novel written in the avant-garde style of diction first popularized by Johnny Weissmuller when he uttered those famous words, “Me Tarzan, you Jane.” But that’s not Fight Club. My advice: never read a novel that was written after the author was declared a genius in Publishers Weekly. Once that happens, an author knows he can pawn off any crap that comes out of his lazy brain, without even running the Word spellcheck function.

Or, maybe you tried to read Rant, a novel Palahniuk wrote in the form of an “oral history,” where 146 different characters each speak three sentences at a time, until you can’t remember who said what and you don’t even give a shit as you fling the goddamn book into the trashcan and go back to surfing porno sites, where at least you know what the fuck is going on.

Let me clue you in:  Rant is the story of an iconoclastic rebel who becomes a local legend when he starts a secret club where otherwise normal people challenge each other and risk horrible injuries and the idea spreads until everyone’s doing it, making the world a much more interesting place to live. But that’s not Fight Club. If I were to try and describe Fight Club in one sentence, I’d say it was the story of an iconoclastic rebel who becomes a local legend when he starts a secret club where otherwise normal people challenge each other and risk horrible injuries and the idea spreads until everyone’s doing it, making the world a much more interesting place to live. Okay, so Palahniuk isn’t long on ideas. But Rant is different from Fight Club. It could be described as Fight Club in Cars. Think of it as Fight Club meets demolition derby. Unfortunately, that “oral history” format is meant to disguise the fact that it’s basically the same book, rewritten in a way that guarantees that no one will get through it, except for the critics, a bunch of academic doofuses (doofi?) who spent their college years trying to explain Finnegan’s Wake to their professors, who themselves had no idea what the fuck Joyce was talking about.

But Fight Club is written 100% in normal English, with sentences that have nouns and verbs and adjectives and subjects and predicates. It makes sense. It’s a real novel with a plot and a theme, mostly centering around testicles and who’s got ’em and how big mine are compared to yours.

Back to the story… You’ll never guess what happens toward the end… There’s a twist ending! Who writes books like this anymore? A story with compelling characters and a twist ending? But wait! There’s more! After the twist ending… a cliffhanger! And the perfect cliffhanger for this story: Guy’s in trouble, big trouble, OMG, they’re going to castrate him!

I’m not going to spoil the ending. All I can say is, Chuck, it must have taken a lot of balls to write a novel like this.



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3 thoughts on “Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk – A First Novel with Punch”

  1. Is the film faithful to the book?

    In spirit, yes … which is a nice way of saying no. However, the film must be seen. When it came out, it was all but massacred by the critics, nearly destroyed Fincher’s career, resulted in more than one lost job at Fox Pictures, and became an instant cult classic that appears to have reached mass acceptance now.

    Go figure.

    You won’t meet too many marginalized 30-somethings today that can’t quote lines from it verbatim. Although when it was released, guys shied away from the aggression. It was women, actually, who were dragging their boyfriends to see it. Personally, I thought it was a right wicked flick up to about 2/3 the way through. Lost interest around Project Mayhem, but it redeemed itself gloriously in the final few minutes.

    Give it a look, Arnold. For the full experience, you should probably download it from the Pirate Bay or something.

    Just saying.

  2. About ten years ago I decided to see what sort of short fiction Playboy was publishing. I flipped to the current issue’s story, and read it. And freaked out! I have read plenty of twisted stuff over the years, but this grabbed me. I flipped back to the front, and learned that the author, Chuck Palahniuk, was the author of Fight Club. The story was “Guts.” Palahniuk claims that at public readings people faint, vomit, or both. A few probably crapped their pants. I don’t think he is kidding. You can find it on the web; it has a cult following. That is, you can find it if you dare.

    I have read a couple of other works by him. Let me digress for a moment. Around the same time I read his story I belonged to a mystery writers group in Tucson. They were going to publish an anthology of local mysteries, and I submitted a story called “Liar’s Poker.” It was long, running five thousand words, and when focred by events to count them, I learned that .5% of those words were considered “dirty.” by half the members of the group. There were sixteen variants of “fuck,” four of “shit,” two of “pussy” (I hope the group isn’t watching the news these days!) and three others I have forgotten. This was 23 or 24 more than the chairwoman would reluctantly consider. I contemplted a response that would add to the total, but instead wrote “Killing Grandpa,” a heartwarming family story, which was accepted into A Way With Murder.

    Back to Chuck … One of his books is about the making of a movie about a world record setting gang bang. There is a scene in it where a character buys an inflatable doll, and accidentally pokes a hole in it. He is on the living room sofa, frantically trying to come before all the air leaks out, when his mother walks in the front door. In a book of essays he talks about writing that scene early in his career, when he belonged to a local writers group whose members were almost all octogenarian ladies like the chairwoman of the Tucson group. He read that story at a meeting …

  3. Hey, tobaksa, so what happened to “Liar’s Poker?” I want to see that one.

    I didn’t know about Palahniuk’s “Guts” when it was published in Playboy. I was reading all gambling stuff at that time. It’s one of the early chapters in Haunted, which is where I read it. The full chapter is printed on his website.

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