Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 debut novel, a fixture of pop-culture after David Fincher’s 1999 film. I read a first edition hardcover.
3 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 3
Seen the Movie: I turned fourteen in 1999. I have seen the movie so many times…
A modern thirty-something with a perfectly fine life (condo, career, college degree) is drawn to a suicidal woman and anarchist man.
Oh, Fight Club. I pray for you to be satire and worry that you are actually taking yourself seriously. Please be as convinced as I am that your narrator is a whiny, privileged white man who is making his own problems. And please be trying to convey that Tyler Durden is a terrible figure to idolize.
Fans of Fight Club can be abrasive. Some seem to believe that Tyler is the hero of this piece, totally missing the point (like how some men read The Collector and decide that kidnapping a woman would be jolly good fun).
 We all know the twist, right? I’d like to talk to someone who read this book without knowing, to see when they began to suspect the narrator and Tyler Durden were the same person. Palahniuk hardly tries to hide it, with lines like:
I know this because Tyler knows this.
(p.12; 26; 112; 185; 203)
I don’t know how long Tyler had been working on all those nights I couldn’t sleep.
I had to know what Tyler was doing while I was asleep.
If I could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person?
 Fact check (how tall is the world’s tallest building?):
This is the world’s tallest building (…) one hundred and ninety-one floors up.
This would still be the world’s tallest building. The current tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (completed in 2010), is 163 floors. The closest to that is the Shanghai Tower at 128 floors.
We have a sort of triangle thing going here. I want Tyler. Tyler wants Marla. Marla wants me. (…)
This isn’t about love as in caring. This is about property as in ownership.
“Maybe it’s just seminoma. With seminoma, you have almost a hundred percent survival rate.”
Seminoma is a germ cell tumor of the testicle or, more rarely, the mediastinum or other extra-gonadal locations. It is a malignant neoplasm and is one of the most treatable and curable cancers, with a survival rate above 95% if discovered in early stages.
My tongue thinks it has flocked wallpaper, I’m biting the inside of my mouth so much.
Flocking is the process of depositing many small fiber particles (called flock) onto a surface. Flocking wallpaper can give it a velour texture.
 The narrative jumps from first- to second-person, present and past tense. It works better than it should; you always know where you are. Seeing the movie first must help. Again, I’d love to know how it works for someone who has never seen the film.
You wake up at Air Harbor International.
Every takeoff and landing, when the plane banked too much to one side, I prayed for a crash. That moment cures my insomnia with narcolepsy when we might die helpless and packed human tobacco in the fuselage.
The charm of traveling is everywhere I go, tiny life. I go to the hotel, tiny soap, tiny shampoo, single-serving butter, tiny mouthwash and a single-use toothbrush.
The first full frontal movie anyone can remember had the naked actress Angie Dickinson.
By the time a print of this movie had shipped from the West Coast to the East Coast theaters, the nude scene was gone. One projectionist took a frame. Another projectionist took a frame.
Angie Dickinson (b.1931) is an American actress. One of Dickinson’s best known and most sexually provocative movie roles was in Big Bad Mama (1974) with William Shatner and Tom Skerritt. She appeared nude in several scenes.
All her life, she never saw a dead person. There was no real sense of life because she had nothing to contrast it with. Oh, but now there was dying and death and loss and grief (…)
No, she wasn’t leaving any group.
“Not and go back to the way life felt before,” Marla says. “I used to work in a funeral home to feel good about myself (…) Funerals are all abstract ceremony. Here, you have a real experience of death.”
If Marla worked in a funeral home, I assume she’s seen lots of dead bodies before now.
Never, ever say the dildo accidentally turned itself on.
My clever Njurunda coffee tables in the shape of a lime green yin and an orange yang that fit together to make a circle (…)
My Haparanda sofa group with the orange slip covers, design by Erika Pekkari, it was trash, now (…)
We all have the same Johanneshov armchair in the Strinne green stripe pattern (…)
We all have the same Rislampa/Har paper lamps made from wire and environmentally friendly unbleached paper (…)
The Alle cutlery service (…)
The Vild hall clock (…)
The Klipsk shaving unit (…)
Hemlig hat boxes (…)
The Mommala quilt-cover set. Design by Tomas Harila (…)
The easy-care textured lacquer of my Kalix occasional tables .
My Steg nesting tables.
Most of these names are villages in Sweden and (I assume) names of Ikea furniture.
Erika Pekkari’s site lists furniture, carpets, textile, bed & bath, collections, storage, objects, and exhibitions. Much of her work is sold through Ikea. The quote on the home page (“Uh, yes… I’d like to order the Erika Pekkari dust ruffles”) is from the film version of Fight Club.
Tomas Harila (b.1961) is a Swedish designer. One of the first facts listed on his Wikipedia page is his reference in Fight Club.
 Let’s get to the weakest and most frustrating element of Fight Club: the narrator is never consistent about the cause of his angst or his ways of acting out against it. I can’t tell if Palahniuk knows he’s writing from the perspective of a mentally unstable man who throws blame at everything (even perfection), or if we’re supposed to sympathize with someone whose greatest complaint is that his life was too good.
Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete.
What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women.
My father never went to college so it was really important I go to college. After college, I called him long distance and said, now what?
My dad didn’t know.
When I got a job and turned twenty-five, long distance, I said, now what? My dad didn’t know, so he said, get married.
I’m a thirty-year-old boy, and I’m wondering if a woman is really the answer I need.
At the time, my life just seemed too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better of ourselves.
When Tyler invented Project Mayhem, Tyler said the goal of Project Mayhem had nothing to do with other people. Tyler didn’t care if other people got hurt or not. The goal was to teach each man in the project that he had the power to control history. We, each of us, can take control of the world.
For thousands of years, human beings had screwed up and trashed and crapped on this planet, and now history expected me to clean up after everyone (…)
And now I have to foot the bill for nuclear waste and buried gasoline tanks and landfilled toxic sludge dumped a generation before I was born.
Compare the following with the “goal of Project Mayhem” Tyler outlined a couple of quotes back:
When I come home, one space monkey is reading to the assembled space monkeys who sit covering the whole first floor. “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile (…)
Out culture has made us all the same. No one is truly white or black or rich, anymore. We all want the same. Individually, we are nothing.”
“What you have to understand, is your father was your model for God.” (…)
How Tyler saw it was that getting God’s attention for being bad was better than getting no attention at all. Maybe because God’s hate is better than His indifference (…)
Only if we’re caught and punished can we be saved (…)
It’s not enough to be numbered with the grains of sand on the beach and the stars in the sky.
A law is a law, Tyler would say. Driving too fast was the same as setting a fire was the same as planting a bomb was the same as shooting a man.
…but it’s not, not even to Tyler. Otherwise, he and the men in Fight Club could get their rocks off by simply breaking the speed limit every week.
I am nothing in the world compared to Tyler.
I am helpless.
I am stupid, and all I do is want and need things.
Tyler and the narrator pretend Project Mayhem is about helping the greater man but it always comes back to selfishness, a desire for power and a place in history:
“You have a class of young strong men and women, and they want to give their lives to something. Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need.
We don’t have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do, we have a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives. We have a spiritual depression.
“We have to show these men and women freedom by enslaving them, and show them courage by frightening them.”
…pages later, in the Raymond K. Hessel chapter, the narrator acts like he’s a saint for holding Hessel at gunpoint and terrifying him into going back to college. Which is reinforcing the same social expectations and traditional path that the narrator is so pissed about being trapped in. When Hessel finishes college, won’t he be in the same position the narrator was? Asking, “Now what?” (see the quote from p.50-51 above). And then, the worst insult:
Raymond K. K. Hessel, your dinner is going to taste better than any meal you’ve ever eaten, and tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of your entire life.
I doubt it. Hessel won’t be able to eat tonight because he was just held up at gunpoint. He’ll have to report this to the police and go through the bullshit hassle of getting a new license. He’ll probably be too terrified to sleep, afraid to walk on the streets at night, possibly suffer PTSD. And again, what a mixed message; the narrator encouraging someone to go to college? Who says Hessel wasn’t happy “working a shit job for just enough money to buy cheese and watch television” (p.155). Isn’t the narrator’s whole schtick that too much money makes us chase possessions and keeps us from true enlightenment?
“We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we’ll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won’t. And we’re just learning this fact,” Tyler said. “So don’t fuck with us.”
The first time I met Tyler, I was asleep.
I was tired and crazy and rushed, and every time I boarded a plane, I wanted the plane to crash. I envied people dying of cancer. I hated my life. I was tired and bored with my job and my furniture, and I couldn’t see any way to change things.
Only end them.
I felt trapped.
I was too complete.
I was too perfect.
Finally, after no real foundation laid for it, the narrator puts everything on his attraction to Marla:
I know why Tyler had occurred. Tyler loved Marla. From the first night I met her, Tyler or some part of me had needed a way to be with Marla.
So it wasn’t about hating your perfect life? Your absent father? Your lack of a war? Your job? It was about wanting to be with a woman and not being able to… I don’t know, have a conversation with her? This is like when an ex-girlfriend or wife is brought up by the media after a mass murderer or serial killer’s actions (the whole “scorned lover/brokenhearted” narrative).
There’s a series of [Reader’s Digest] articles where organs in the human body talk about themselves in the first person: I am Jane’s Uterus.
I am Joe’s Prostate.
These articles were collected in the book I Am Joe’s Body by J.D. Ratcliff. It appears to have been originally published in 1980. I can’t find the years that the articles were in Reader’s Digest but the forward to the book reads:
The book comprises of 33 articles by J D Ratcliff, which formed the most well known series in the history of the Reader’s Digest magazine. Each article introduces the organs and tissues present in the bodies of Joe and Jane – a typical couple.
The chapters are: Cell, Brain, Hypothalamus, Eye, Ear, Nose, Skin, Tongue, Pituitary, Thyroid, Thymus, Adrenal, Heart, Lung, Bloodstream, Eyetooth, Throat, Stomach, Intestine, Liver, Pancreas, Womb, Ovary, Breast, Testis, Kidney, Bladder, Prostate, Spine, Thighbone, Foot, Hand, Hair.
A sample from the “Brain” chapter:
But I am not just part of Joe, I am Joe – his personality, his reactions, his mental capacity. He thinks that he hears with his ears, tastes with his tongue, and feels with his fingers. All these things happen inside of me – ears, tongue and fingers merely gather information. I tell him when he is sick, when he is hungry; I govern his sex urge, his moods, everything.
(I Am Joe’s Body, p.6)
Now, according to the ancient Chinese custom we all learned from television, Tyler is responsible for Marla, forever, because Tyler saved Marla’s life.
 It is incredible how the visuals of the film nail these moments. You feel you are reading a novelization of a film and not the other way around:
Tyler gets to the end of the hallway and even before he knocks a thin, thin, buttermilk sallow arm slingshots out the door of room 8G, grabs his wrist, and yanks Tyler inside.
 There are repeated lines and motifs throughout Fight Club (one I didn’t note specifically is the narrator looking up at the stars) but this stuck out to me because it’s such a deliberate repetition and I’m not sure what we get from hearing it twice:
A lot of people wanted Marla dead, she told Tyler. These people were already dead and on the other side, and at night they called on the telephone. Marla would go to bars and hear the bartender calling her name, and when she took the call, the line was dead.
These people were dead and on the other side, and at night they called on the telephone. Marla would go to bars and hear the bartender calling her name, and when she took the call the line was dead.
 I think Palahniuk knows his narrator is a bit of a whiner. I think he’s in on it:
Until today, it really pissed me off that I’d become this totally centered Zen Master and nobody had noticed.
I’m saying HELLO to everybody at work. HELLO! Look at me. HELLO! I am so ZEN. This is BLOOD. This is NOTHING. Hello. Everything is nothing, and it’s so cool to be ENLIGHTENED. Like me.
What Marla loves, she says, is all the things that people love intensely and then dump an hour or a day after. The way a Christmas tree is the center of attention, then, after Christmas you see those dead Christmas trees with tinsel still on them, dumped alongside the highway.
Tyler tells me, if I’m really angry I should (…) fill out a change-of-address card and have all his mail forwarded to Rugby, North Dakota.
Rugby is a city in, and the county seat of, Pierce County, North Dakota. The population was 2,876 at the 2010 census, making it the seventeenth largest city in North Dakota. Rugby was founded in 1886. Rugby is often billed as the geographic center of North America.
The Diamond Sutra and the Blue Cliff Record. Hari Rama, you know, Krishna, Krishna.
The Diamond Sutra is a Buddhist sutra from the “Perfection of Wisdom” genre and emphasizes the practice of non-abiding and non-attachment.
The Blue Cliff Record is a collection of Zen Buddhist koans originally compiled in China during the Song dynasty in 1125.
Hari is another name of Vishnu, meaning “he who removes illusion.” The Hare Krishna mantra is composed of three Sanskrit names of the Supreme Being; “Hare”, “Krishna”, and “Rama.”
Tyler says he stopped the elevator and farted on a whole cart of Boccone Dolce.
According to natashaskitchen.com:
Boccone dolce means “sweet mouthful.” It is a classic Italian dessert. It’s a cake without any cake. This Boccone Dolce Cake has three crunchy meringue layers, chocolate, cream, berries and more berries.
This is easier with cold soup, vichyssoise, or when the chefs make a really fresh gazpacho. This is impossible with that onion soup that has a crust of melted cheese on it in ramekins.
Vichyssoise is a thick soup made of boiled and pureed leeks, onions, potatoes, cream, and chicken stock. It is traditionally served cold but it can be eaten hot.
A ramekin is a small glazed ceramic or glass bowl used for cooking and serving various dishes.
 Typo? Should this be ‘bass’?
Tyler says the music is so loud, especially the base tracks, that it screws with his biorhythm.
The club is too loud to talk, so after a couple of drinks, everyone feels like the center of attention but completely cut off from participating with anyone else.
Last week the issue was some leather cured with a known teratogenic substance, synthetic Nirret or something just as illegal that’s still used in third world tanning.
A teratogen is an agent that can disturb the development of the embryo or fetus. Teratogens halt the pregnancy or produce a congenital malformation (birth defect). Classes of teratogens include radiation, maternal infections, chemicals, and drugs.
I think Nirret might be an invention of Palahniuk’s. The only reference I can find refers back to Fight Club.
 Just like John Fowles’ character Clegg (see The Collector (note ), Fight Club narrator’s dialogue is never put into quotations, which adds the feeling that his words aren’t really heard or are more thoughts than real speech. The dialogue that is in quotations is often presented in interesting ways:
“The fights,” Big Bob says, “go on as long as they have to. Those are the rules invented by the guy who invented fight club.”
Big Bob asks, “Do you know him?
“I’ve never seen him, myself,” Big Bob says, “but the guy’s name is Tyler Durden.”
There are a lot of things we don’t want to know about the people we love.
If people thought you were dying, they gave you their full attention.
If this might be the last time they saw you, they really saw you.
 What the hell…? Were we still thinking of AIDS as a “gay disease” in 1996?
Before anyone knew any better, a lot of gay guys had wanted children, and now the children are sick and the mothers are dying and the fathers are dead.
I wanted to burn the Louvre. I’d do the Elgin Marbles with a sledgehammer.
The Elgin Marbles are a collection of Classical Greek marble sculptures made under the supervision of the architect and sculptor Phidias and his assistant. They were originally part of the temple of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens. Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin arranged for the sculptures to be transported to Britain from 1801 to 1812. Some likened the Earl’s actions to vandalism or looting. They are currently at display in the purpose-build Duveen Gallery in the British Museum in London. Greece still urges the return of the marbles.
He’s parked at the curb in somebody’s black Corniche.
The Rolls-Royce Corniche is a two-door, front-engine, rear wheel drive five-seater produced as a coupe and convertible from 1971 to 1995.
A sort of fun explosive is potassium permanganate mixed with powered sugar.
Permanganate is the general name for a chemical compound. Permanganate solutions are purple in color and are stable in neutral or slightly alkaline media.
Sometime between the Boudin of Gravlax and the Saddle of Venison.
Boudin are various kinds of sausage.
Gravlax or gravlaks is a Nordic dish consisting of raw salmon, cured in salt, sugar, and dill Gravlax is usually served as an appetizer.
Fight Club captures nineties middle/upper-class white youth mentality and angst the way Catcher in the Rye did for the fifties. I was enamored with Fight Club in my teens. Now, in my thirties (and content to be a cog in the system with my apartment and furniture and domestic life) it still reads well but, thankfully, doesn’t cause the same worshipful feelings. It’s a pretty good book. That’s about it.
You can get something from Fight Club whether you love or hate the characters. It’s the beauty of the book (and the film). Palahniuk’s style is interesting and full of personality, the book moves along at a swift pace and doesn’t take more than a couple of days to read. It’s also interesting from a page-to-screen perspective; every decision and change made for the Fincher film improves on the source material but the film also knows which scenes to play word-for-word.
If you have no interest, you’re not missing out by never reading Fight Club. But for any fan of the film or anyone with interest in time capsule, experimental fiction, give it a shot. (If you haven’t encountered either version, the film is better. Start there.)
Next week, visiting Thornton Wilder again for Heaven’s My Destination.