If you haven’t already seen the glorious masterpiece that spliced Brad Pitt (whom I don’t even like…sorry) into a story about split personality disorder, middle-class uprising, entrapment of consumer culture, and the price of mayhem, you are seriously depriving yourself. Fight Club is one of those cinematic moments you’re going to take months to recover from. The best part? It’s completely faithful to the book. Chuck Palahniuk wiled away a boring afternoon at work by writing the ultimate ‘boys club’ short story…
An underground classic since its first publication in 1996, Fight Club is now recognized as one of the most original and provocative novels published in this decade. Chuck Palahniuk’s darkly funny first novel tells the story of a godforsaken young man who discovers that his rage at living in a world filled with failure and lies cannot be pacified by an empty consumer culture. Relief for him and his disenfranchised peers comes in the form of secret after-hours boxing matches held in the basements of bars. Fight Club is the brainchild of Tyler Durden, who thinks he has found a way for himself and his friends to live beyond their confining and stultifying lives. But in Tyler’s world there are no rules, no limits, no brakes.
I call Fight Club the ultimate boys club story and, to an extent, Palahniuk would call it the same. He saw the vast market of literature that carved out a space for women to come together in common interests, joys, and problems and noted the severe lack of the same for men. Now, 18 years after Fight Club was first published, there is still a gaping void of male-oriented literature while chick-lit and erotica are on the rise.
I, along with hundreds of other female Palahniuk fans, would attest to the fact that Fight Club in fact does defy the rules of gendered reading preferences. Appealing and applicable to both men and women, it gets to the heart of what it means to be one out of thousands in society. To be just another cog in the wheel of life; more so, a middle-class cog ensuring the comfortable workings of the upper class machinery. Aside from shaking my head and chuckling in awe at how deftly Palahniuk weaves a plot twist into his words from the very first page, the book left me thinking about two particular concepts.
1. Gendered literature In an age where awareness is being spread in children’s literature and the toy industries about gender neutral products, I’m surprised to see the stark division between adult fiction for males and females. I specify fiction because biographies, memoirs, sports books, etc. have a wide range, while marketed to specific target audiences, that can work for many. What is it about books that make them so gender specific? Is it the publishing industry’s form of genre? Is dubbing literature ‘chick lit’, ‘erotica’, etc. preventing it from getting the attention it deserves from both sexes? Or is it the content of the books that seems to narrow and specific? Precious few authors have managed to access and defy the binary–Khaled Hosseini and J.K. Rowling being two of my favorite examples. How is it that they are able to write from a male perspective but still access a widely female audience? Why is it that men are so hesitant to pick up books that involve a female protagonist? Do we need more books like Fight Club to crop up–ones that create a ‘safe space’ for men on bookshelves but which don’t alienate women? Palahniuk’s strength, whether he realized it or not, is that he created a work of art that was meant for men but didn’t offend or exclude women. It’s the ultimate boys club pick but, as you read, there’s no sign saying “No Girls Allowed.” It is a fantastic, gender neutral book.
2. Project Mayhem To turn Fight Club from a short story into a novel, Palahniuk reached out to his friends for real stories. The moments when acquaintances whispered stories like, “Margaret Thatcher has eaten my cum…at least five times”, informed Project Mayhem. So what would it take for you to be convinced of the fact that you belong to Project Mayhem? What level of frustration with “the system” would you need to descend to in order to denounce your worldly possessions and surrender your body and “soul” (i.e. the essence of who you are as a person: your beliefs, passions, humanity, etc) to the task of f*cking shit up for the rest of the world. Setting buildings on fire because you can; pissing into a tureen of soup to wield a sense of power over your oppressors, holding a person at gunpoint in order to make them realize the worth or waste of their own life; killing. The entirety of Fight Club is based on discontent with the 9-5 system and the structure of economical hierarchy. Is it a matter of positioning or a matter of personal preference (or both) that would tip the scales from being an upstanding citizen to wrecking havoc. Project Mayhem and Tyler Durden certainly made a compelling argument for the latter. As someone who has always been a by-the-book person, I found myself surprised at how invested I was in the cause, as much as I feared it while reading about it. Now that’s good writing.