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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Vichinsky

Fight Club (Novel): Review and Analysis

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

"...Even if someone loves you enough to save your live, they still castrate you" (Palahniuk 68).


Fight Club is mostly known for the movie featuring super stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Even when I picked up the book my wife goes, "Oh, I didn't know there was a book." and Chris goes, "Oh! The book, I thought you were talking about the movie." Many reviews on the internet state how the movie is more effective than the book, Palahniuk says this himself. For all these years, though, I refused to watch the movie because I wanted to read the book first - call me crazy.


What I didn't know, when I started this book, was how controversial this book has become. Many call it a call to action for masculinity, some see it as an anti-consumerist/ capitalist novel. Some say it's a horror book where nihilism is the monster. Some call it a homo-erotic fantasy in addition to the various messages already listed.


At various parts of the novel I felt all of these at various times - I'll touch on them. I felt myself stopping and asking myself, What am I reading? What is he trying to get to? Ultimately, call it helpless optimism or faith in writers best intentions, I felt like this is a story of repression, of love (or lack thereof), and a story of redemption.


Thematic Intention

I wasn't sure about it until the end but Palahniuk calls it what he believes it is. A love story. That of the likes of The Great Gatsby.

Really, what I was writing was just The Great Gatsby, updated a little. It was "apostolic" fiction - where a surviving apostle tells the story of his hero. There are two men and a woman. One man, the hero, is shot to death.

I don't believe the comparisons stop there. At the heart of this novel, I believe it a cautionary tale about modern masculinity and the lack of genuine connection.


Like Gatsby, the narrator feels as if he's stuck in a purposeless life. Stuck in a mundane setting with mundane interests. Gatsby, when introduced to Daisy, gets a taste of how a man is viewed without status. Thus, as the book states, Jay Gatz creates a projection of himself in a way that any 17 year old boy would - a party playboy who would find success by forcing his own path toward success - towards masculinity. Gatsby was created because of the societal pressure to gain wealth and notoriety. Masculinity is, and was, measured based on what they could buy and show off. It is a world in which Man does not feel connection unless, again, they provide the consumerist value of a man.


This is where the thematic connection stretches further between Fight Club and The Great Gatsby. Tyler is a projection of the toxic man. He floats within all men in society - hence why many men find this book intriguing. His "burn the world mentality" is an over-correction to the commercialization of life. You are worth, what you can provide. This is what the narrator becomes tired of, he finds a way to break his cycle, to take back "masculinity" in which he commercializes in his own way - fight club.


If I can't be worth anything the way I am, then nothing is worth having, sustaining, or being.


Literally, he defines masculinity in the most extreme way possible: violence, anti-establishment, anti-government, anti-possession. He, like Gatsby, becomes a slave his own projection and correction.


Here lies the pivotal message in both of these novels. Connection, or love, is lacked in both of these characters. The narrator has no one to discuss these troubles with. He longs to feel alive in the mundane and fails desperately to feel this. It's out of desperation for connection that forces this extremist within him to take over. The book shows no one who looks to understand him, in fact, many times, he points out the fact that he felt replaceable by a father who left him for a new family, multiple times.

'If you're a male and you're a Christian and living in America, your father is your model for God. And if you never know your father, if you father bails out or dies or is never at home, what do you believe about God?' (Palanhiuk 141).

He also makes the observation that he could come to work with his face beat in and no one cares as long as he does what he's supposed to do.


The only way he finds relief from this isolation - of seemingly male problems - is going to grievance groups where people are literally dying from horrific things (brain parasites, testicular cancer, ect.). Here, these characters share their feelings, cry, and are vulnerable. The narrator even lies to take place in these groups. It is one of these moments that he meets Marla, who goes to these meetings for the same reason. It is her persistence to stay with the Narrator that breaks him free from Tyler at the end.


This again is shown when the narrator projects Tyler. He longs for Tyler to notice him and often competes for his attention against that of his movement, in fact it is the major reason why he participates in the first place. To be a part of something and to be noticed by Tyler. This, reminds me more of Nick than Gatsby in this instance, but the idea of longing to belong is not lost in comparison.


Fight club is the antithesis of this need. He states, "Maybe we didn't need a father to complete ourselves. There's nothing personal about who you fight in fight club. You fight to fight. You're not supposed to talk about fight club," (Palanhiuk 54). Notice how both Fight Club and grievance meetings are very extreme ways to deal with a feeling of lack of connection. One is healthy, talking, but unavailable in the real world toward men- hence the desperation of the lie. One is unhealthy and is seen as powerful and thrilling to men - hence create an abundance of availability. In this society it is easier to create an underground system of fighting (where the first two rules are "don't talk about it") than it is to find someone to discuss your problems with.


This is well executed Satire. The critique is the cliche of toxicity in men. The willingness to get their ass beat, but not discuss their feelings.


Thematic Misconceptions

Masculinity

I think it is easy to read this book or watch the movie and say that Palahniuk calls for a masculinity revolution. That we have to take back our primal instincts and set ourselves free from "beta male" behavior. I really do have a hard time thinking that this was his intention, specifically when we consider the genre of satire.


Palahniuk uses the characters to create a paradox of two extremes. By doing so we have to question which one we side with more. I think the idea here is to show that both sides are wrong. The call to action is not to break society, it is not for society to mold to us more than it already does. The call to action is not to stick yourself in the mundane and never question or sulk alone. The call to action, like stated above is that this is not an isolated feeling. That it is universal in most men who feel that their worth is based on their ability to provide things. It is to see that the most manly thing you can do is create meaningful connections, like between Big Bob and the narrator (even here Big Bob is seen as lacking testosterone). In the end, both the narrator and Tyler die - this is the call.


I believe if you think this book about reclaiming this "alpha-male mentality" Palahniuk is making fun of you and pointing you out as the problem.


Victimhood and Nihilism

One thing that I can see as a toxic idea is that it does seem to cast a victim shell to men. "We are a product of being raised by mothers" , "Capitalism made me this way" , "No one cares about us".


Here, again, I have to state that this is satire. Genre isn't biased towards group. Satire's job is to see a problem in society and poke fun in a way that makes you uncomfortable and think critically about it. I believe, if this is the intention it definitely worked that way for me. Although I will say that personal responsibility is needed, I think this is seen a little bit when the narrator looks to "kill" Tyler.


Consumerism / Capitalism

I definitely wouldn't consider this a socialist book (or anti-capitalism). While it does use consumerism as a weapon that enslaves us in the mundane, and a system that can be cruel, I think it equally stresses the importance of individuality and competition - which are staples of capitalism. It is when it is taken to an extreme that these are the issues. This is primarily seen through the soap bars - selling back the fat people got lyposuctioned out. Hence the "alpha-male" mentality becomes a cyclical issue.


In this way it is less of a thematic statement of this book but more of a tool to show how extreme a society based around these concepts can reflect in the people who live in it.


Homo-erotic Fantasy

I don't see it. It's the same theories as Nick being in love with Gatsby. You can find proof to write an essay on it, but I see it more as a call for affection, an admiration for something he is not. Again, it also shows the desperation for love and affection.


Writing and Style

While thematic elements are similar to Fitzgerald's Gatsby, he is no where close to as elegant or masterful as Fitzgerald. This is not a diss on Palahniuk, it is just a reassurance that he isn't on a "G.O.A.T." level.


Palahniuk definitely uses a very intriguing style that pulls a reader in from the start. He uses second person which helps the feeling of the unreliable narrator. I think the use of second person also feels like you're connected to the narrator more, a familiarity if you will. This enhances the overall thematic message. He uses very beautiful prose and a satirical tone which makes the character funny and transparent. It is clear from the start how the connection between Tyler and the narrator starts. It is through these unfiltered comments he gives to his reader.

One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection (Palahniuk 33).

That is one thing that I would knock this piece for is that it seems like there's not lead up the the reveal. He almost makes it obvious from the start. The use of the projector switching back and forth and the short lines like, "I know this because Tyler knows this," really hurt the build up.


I will say that is it choppy at times and lacks focus and clarity on its message. This book started as just a chapter (chapter six) and I would say this is as flawless as the book gets. After there's highs and lows to the writing and it's power over the story and narrative. After all, a minute of perfection is worth the effort.


Conclusions

This book made me contemplate the meaning more than any other book I have read recently. I was not sure if it was because it was so effectively done as a satire that the meaning goes over people's heads, or if it was because it lacks clarity of its mission and call to action. However, after reading the afterward and the finale of the book I think it cleared up the message. For that, I have concluded that as an effective satire it is 5/5.


As stated the coherent-ness and plot choices of the book felt like it lacked purpose at times. Some lost me and some made it feel like Palahniuk was trying to say too much in such a short novel. 3/5


Going off of this, though, I will say the beauty of the writing had a hold over me. So did the voice. I very much enjoyed the stylistic choices of the prose. For this I will give the stylistic part of the writing 5/5.


Overall I would give this book 4/5 stars. I find that the satirical statement is valuable and unique. One that challenges a quota that is hard to address in this age. I can see where the danger of this book is, but ultimately Palahniuk is against the toxicity of men and their dangerous tendencies that hurt others, when it can be solved by a simple solution - love and connection.



Oh, and build your own definition of a man that does not include that of Tyler or the narrator.

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Oct 23, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Perfection

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