Chuck Palahniuk's FIGHT CLUB is a book I fear. Not because it's particularly frightening, but because I know I'll never write as convincing as this. And if that's true, if I'll never be this good, then what in the hell am I doing with my life?
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FIGHT CLUB is the story of an unnamed hero--unnamed and trapped in a mundane life just like so many others, a man who truly could be ANYONE--who goes to self-help groups to cure his insomnia. One good cry during the testicular cancer meeting and he'll sleep like a baby. But when Marla Singer, the big tourist, starts invading his turf, showing up at his brain parasites group, his bone cancer, tuberculosis, and ascending bowel cancer groups, he finds his pattern interrupted and the insomnia returns. Enter Tyler Durden. Tyler works part-time as a projectionist where he splices single frames of pornography into family films, and also as a banquet waiter where he does even worse things to the food. He also owns and operates the Paper Street Soap Company. Tyler is the ultimate anti-establishment character. You are not your jobs, your bank account, your furniture, he proclaims. You are not your name. The hero meets Tyler on a beach one afternoon and when he returns home from a business trip to find his apartment has blown up, he calls Tyler looking for a place to stay. Tyler says yes, he can stay with him, but he has to do him a favor first. "I want you to hit me as hard as you can."
The philosophy behind fight club is simple. "You aren't alive anywhere like you're alive at fight club. When it's you and one other guy under that light in the middle of all those watching. Fight club isn't about winning or losing fights. Fight club isn't about words. You see a guy come to fight club for the first time, and his a$$ is a loaf of white bread. You see this same guy here six months later, and he looks carved out of wood. This guy trusts himself to handle anything. There's grunting and noise at fight club like at the gym, but fight club isn't about looking good. There's hysterical shouting in tongues like at church, and when you wake up Sunday afternoon you feel saved."
And life for our hero takes on a familiar pattern and he's well-rested once again. Until Marla Singer calls. Marla Singer gets money by stealing jeans from dryers in the laundromat and selling them. She gets free meals by claiming the Meals on Wheels for the people in her building who've died. She starts sleeping with Tyler and when the hero wakes up in the morning, she's there. Tyler's also beginning to outgrow fight club. He's been recruiting fight club members for something he calls Project Mayhem, an underground army of non-conformists (who all dress alike) who not only want to stick it to the man, they want to break it off inside him and beat him with the rest of it. "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."
It's all fun and games for the hero at first, life is interesting once again, but Project Mayhem isn't fight club, Project Mayhem is something he knows about only peripherally. Tyler doesn't tell him everything anymore, he's no longer the favored one, and the first rule of Project Mayhem is you do not ask questions. Then Tyler disappears and the recruits are taking over the business and the hero, feeling a deep sense of dissociation and abandonment once again (his father left when he was six, started a new family), wants to know what the hell is going on. There are fight clubs popping up all over the country, and Project Mayhem branches to go with them. Tyler is getting out of control, giving his recruits homework assignments. Get in a fight with a total stranger and lose. Buy a gun. Make a human sacrifice. This isn't a weekly meeting in the basement of a bar anymore, this is a big deal.
In his quest for Tyler, the hero uncovers secrets about, not only Project Mayhem, the true scope of just how deep into society Tyler's penetrated, but about Tyler, and also about himself. Most reading this will have already seen the movie or read this book and they know what I'm talking about, but I have to believe at least one reader here is coming in fresh, so I won't reveal it here. I could go on and on about the social and political themes here, the Robin Hood mentality, or Tyler's comment about being a generation of men raised by women, but I won't. Suffice it to say, FIGHT CLUB is just about as perfect as a novel can get.
Like I was saying in the beginning, if I can't write like this, then why am I even trying? This is my second Palahniuk novel, the first was CHOKE, and I'm still blown away by how simply the man writes. I said when I reviewed Clive Barker's GALILEE that the writing seemed effortless, and that holds here as well. Palahniuk's writing in this book isn't writing. Writing does not flow this well, writing doesn't have this voice, it doesn't have this energy. This is Palahniuk sitting up all night with us in a restaurant, drinking coffee and telling us about this guy he knows at work. And we're all a little drunk and we're laughing with him and waiting for what happened next. The place is so crowded and so loud that everything outside our booth is just static, and all we can hear is Palahniuk's voice:
Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler's pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die. For a long time though, Tyler and I were best friends. People are always asking, did I know about Tyler Durden.
The barrel of the gun pressed against the back of my throat, Tyler says, "We really won't die."
With my tongue I can feel the silencer holes we drilled into the barrel of the gun. Most of the noise a gunshot makes is expanding gases, and there's the tiny sonic boom a bullet makes because it travels so fast. To make a silencer, you just drill holes in the barrel of the gun, a lot of holes. This lets the gas escape and slows the bullet to below the speed of sound.
You drill the holes wrong and the gun will blow off your hand.
"This isn't really death," Tyler says. "Well be legends. We wont grow old."
I tongue the barrel into my cheek and say, Tyler, you're thinking of vampires.
The building we're standing on won't be here in ten minutes. You take a 98-percent concentration of fuming nitric acid and add the acid to three times that amount of sulfuric acid. Do this in an ice bath. Then add glycerin drop-by-drop with an eye dropper. You have nitroglycerin.
I know this because Tyler knows this.
Now, that's good stuff.
Of course, now I have to go back and rip up everything I've ever written because I see now that it's all crap. Stupid Palahniuk and his stupid brilliant books. Dammit. Where's that Rum Raisin!? Whats the matter with you? Can't you see we're closed? Go on, get out of here!
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