Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik was first published in 1996 and the film of the novel came out in 1999. I picked up the novel at a used book store a few years ago and randomly decided to read it only recently. I had seen the movie a long time ago, so having known the “twist” I wasn’t really expecting any surprises.
I must admit that the film does an excellent job adapting the story. There are a few differences but the overall story is pretty much the same with of course a few underlying elements you get more of in the book such as the reasoning behind the main character’s mental instability. If you haven’t seen the movie, I may recommend reading the book first. If you have seen the movie, you likely won’t get too much more from the book, but it may be a fun way to experience the story again if you’re in the mood. This is definitely a story that you need to be either in the mood for or open to the craziness that is involved.
The book was a really quick and easy read at around 200 pages. I read it in about two days and probably could have read it in one sitting if I had the time or wanted to. This is the first book by Palahnuik I’ve read but I know he has a reputation for not holding anything back in regards to language, imagery, etc., and I think that is what draws people to his work. He won’t sugar-coat anything and no topic is off-limits. This is also the draw to Fight Club itself. The story centers around the down-trodden, middle-to-low class, working stiffs of the world which every society depends upon but doesn’t care to fully appreciate. This is also known as the majority of the population in every period of civilization.
The story is oddly liberating. I think we can all relate to hating a job and feeling stuck by paying bills and having to do things we would prefer to avoid, or we feel compelled or encouraged to follow a cookie-cutter path that is expected of us though these expectations change from generation to generation. Go to school, then go to college, then maybe get an even higher degree so you can get a good paying job though by the time you do all this the world has changed and that degree doesn’t get you as far as it used to and now you have to work that job in order to pay for the debt you took on for said degree because the cost of the education has increased eight-fold in 40 years while your salary is the same it would have been in 1950. There is no doubt that the world changes quite quickly and by the time you follow one recommended path, the theme park you were promised has been shut down.
What I’m trying to say is that despite the fact this book was written when the world was a much different place, despite being less than 25 years old, many of the same concerns remain. This book was written before 9/11 and the smartphone and it is therefore dated, but it touches on themes that have persisted. Get a job and buy a house and fill the house with things and that help you forget that the world is a messed up place. The book explores who we are when all these things are taken away. It delves into a primal notion to explore what it means to be human in the (recently) modern world. It is a reminder that we don’t have to follow the rushing current of societal expectations and perhaps we have an obligation to resist that current a little bit so we don’t lose ourselves in it.
Therefore, I think this book is a refreshing reminder despite its “taboo” or “uncivilized” subject matter. It is a reminder that sometimes we should re-evaluate where we stand in today’s world. However, I don’t think anyone needs to go join or start an actual fight club and try to destroy anything though apparently these did happen shortly after the book was released. Apparently people thought much of the book was based on factual events. It is entirely fiction, but fiction can have a big influence on human behavior. Chuck Palahnuik has a nice little essay at the end of the novel (the edition I have at least) that talks about how Fight Club had become a pop-culture sensation and how it started as a short story and he wrote it around the simple rules that are used when talking about Fight Club. The rules were meant to keep the story going and allow transitions that reader would accept without additional information. Therefore, the story was really based on a writing experiment. He goes on to talk about how it didn’t really need to be “Fight” Club per se and could have been anything, but Fight Club was definitely an area of interest for a lot of people. As he states, “It could have been ‘Barn-Raising Club’ or ‘Golf Club’…”
I’m curious if the sensationalism about this story has persisted. You don’t really hear much about Fight Club anymore (yes, I’m aware of the joke involving the first rule), but that doesn’t necessarily mean it still isn’t an influence. I think the sensationalism has faded, but the story will persist at a certain level. Hell, I just read it for the first time which is some sort of proof. I’ll likely watch the movie again sometime in the future, but I don’t imagine a new generation will pick it up as a doctrine.
Then again, we have had a lot of protesting this year and the world is a fairly uncertain place at the moment, so perhaps this story seems a bit out of place right now. Who knows if it will maintain it’s current meaning ten years from now. The world may be much different than as it is today. We can only hope it is for the better. I think reading, and reading widely, best prepares us to help steer our future to a better place. Perhaps this may be one of those books you read at the right time. Maybe you’re not quite ready for it. Maybe you’ve already read it and loved it or you hated it but still got something from it. Maybe you need to read it again. Only you can determine that.