book by Chuck Palahniuk
annotation by Lee Stoops
“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.”
~ Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club (166)
I’d like to write about Fight Club, but everyone knows the first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club. Everyone knows this rule. People who have never read Fight Club or seen its movie adaptation know this rule. Chuck Palahniuk wrote Fight Club as a short story, as an experiment while he was bored at work. Those original seven pages became chapter six of what would become one of the most legendary and quoted stories written in the 20th century.
The writing forces imagination. Fresh, engaging, violent, and, ironically truthful, Palahniuk’s prose captivates strangely as the entire narrative is in the first person voice of a man who unknowingly shares his body with another man – another man with whom he believes he has befriended and lives. This other man, Tyler Durden, creates the underground Fight Club, fights, loves the mysterious and broken Marla Singer (by whom the narrator is disgusted), and inhabits the narrator’s mind and flesh independently. Early in the story, the narrator shares experiences with Tyler and abandons his job and life for a more exciting, nihilistic life with Tyler. As the narrator loses control, he sees Tyler less and less often until the two personalities exist in isolation of each other, the narrator having no control over or sense of his body or memory when Tyler takes control. The narrator, even once Tyler disappears and frequently takes control, has no idea that he and Tyler are one in the same. The reader remains in the dark, as well, though Palahniuk hints cryptically at the truth of the plot throughout. The narrative is seeded repeatedly with the line “I know this because Tyler knows this” (26 (first occurrence)).
The story of the split personality is nothing new, yet Palahniuk writes it in a way that many fans claim got their friends/sons/husbands reading again. Creating a story that piques interest with enough strength to inspire non-readers to read is inarguably a remarkable achievement both for the author and for contemporary literature.
The prose is some of the most creative I’ve read in that it is literally reading the interior monologue of a man losing his mind while unaware that he is losing his mind. The majority of the book is stream of consciousness delivery – memories mixed perfectly with present tense story. From the famous line, “I want you to hit me as hard as you can” (47) to the reveal, “You were really fighting me…You said so yourself. You were fighting everything you hate in your life” (167), Palahniuk weaves a story of fabricated authenticity, pulling the reader through the brain of one of the most recognizable, iconic reliably unreliable narrators in modern fiction.
Palahniuk’s text appears on the page as somewhat scattered, but the stepping-stone quality of his story-telling is intended, intentionally leading the reader by telling only what is absolutely important and leaving gaps where the rest needs be simply passed over. Spending 200 pages in the mind of someone that is unaware of his own insanity, the reader eventually loves both the accidental hero (anti-hero?) and the enigmatic, charismatic, anarchistic Tyler Durden. The reader can’t help but keep reading, tunneling further and further into the story and the split mind of the narrator.
Even though the story is cleverly written as one of man-becoming-man, Palahniuk succeeds most impressively in writing what is inconspicuously, secretly even, a love story. From the narrator’s first encounter with Marla Singer (the damaged, accidental, suicidal love-interest of Tyler Durden) to the illumination of Tyler’s manifestation as a result of the narrator’s twisted, admitted love for Marla (and, again ironically though not as strangely for Tyler), the story is truly about love and loathing while masquerading as a violent, gritty, testosterone-infused (“Too much estrogen, and you get bitch-tits” (17)), meat- and beat-fest. “That old saying, about how you always kill the thing you love, well, it works both ways” (184).
“I need you do me another favor,” Tyler says.
This is about Marla isn’t it?
“Don’t’ ever talk to her about me. Don’t talk about me behind my back. Do you promise?” Tyler says.
Tyler says, “If you ever mention me to her, you’ll never see me again.”
Tyler says, “Now remember, that was three times that you promised.” (72).
All the things that Tyler knows are all coming back to me…
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…
I love Marla (198-199).
What started as an experiment, a list of fictitious rules more than a story idea, turned into a seven page short story that turned into a book that turned into a movie that turned into something bigger than a simple cult craze – something culturally defining. The combination of Palahniuk’s spanking new, mind-capturing prose, his ridiculously interesting and filthy characters, and his holds-the-reader-till-the-last-page story-telling give Fight Club unprecedented strength. He offers readers and non-readers something to which they can’t say no, and he gives writers, by example, permission to get away from the rules, to invent new styles, and to write passion, even ugly passion, into places where passion may be obscured.