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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fight Club

Fight Club

by Chuck Palahniuk

(4/5 stars)

This is one of those books I read solely out of that sick curiosity that makes people crane their necks in the car to see an accident on the highway. I'm not sure entirely what I thought I would find, except a lot of guys whaling on each other. What I found is a modern Marxian fairy tale of alienation and the class struggle in America.

The unnamed narrator is just your Average Joe with a boring, menial office job of calculating via a sick formula whether his car manufacturing company should issue recalls or not--this formula does not take ethics or morals into account. He lives in a generic high-rise condo with lots of generic IKEA furniture. And he increasingly cannot sleep. As a way to combat his loneliness and despair, Average Joe goes to various support groups and fakes having whatever disease, whether it's blood parasites or testicular cancer. It's at one of these meetings that he meets Marla Singer, whom he reviles for horning in on his action.

Then one day on the beach he meets Tyler Durden. They become fast friends and then one day at a bar Tyler asks Average Joe to punch him as hard as he can. This leads to the founding of "fight club." The first rule of fight club is you don't talk about fight club, which is also the second rule. Anyway, in fight club two guys beat each other up until one yields or is knocked unconscious. (Surprisingly no one ever dies.) This changes Average Joe's whole perspective of the world, so that he starts coming into work with black eyes and a hole in his cheek and so forth. But just fighting is not enough for Tyler, who soon begins grooming the men of fight club into a terrorist organization to carry out Project Mayhem. This leads to the ultimate confrontation between Tyler and Average Joe--if you've watched or even heard about the movie then you probably already know the big plot twist.

I seem to recall a lot of people in the media going on about how fight club was about regaining lost masculinity in the modern world and so forth. Pshaw! That may be a part of it, but as I said in the beginning, this is a Marxian fairy tale about the proletariat discovering the strength to rise up against the bourgeois to level out the playing field. If you disagree, you need only to think about who's in fight club. Men, certainly, but what kind of men? Waiters, mechanics, bus drivers, office drones, beat cops, and others slaving away at boring, dead-end, low-paying jobs. The targets of Project Mayhem are high-rise buildings, expensive hotels, ATMs, and other symbols of wealth and class in modern civilization.

This book is written in a jumbled, schizophrenic style that can make this a difficult read at times. There is some blood and gore, but perhaps not as much fighting as I would have expected. There's also some perhaps stomach-turning descriptions about how to render human fat into soap and some descriptions of various genitalia that Tyler splices into movies, so this is not for the faint of heart! At just about 200 pages it shouldn't take you much longer to read the book than to watch the movie, which I still haven't done.

If you like your Marxism with a little blood and gore, then this book's for you.

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