I appreciated and enjoyed Fight Club. Artistry is evident despite the gritty=bad writing, which suited the characters, story, and message perfectly. The novel would have wilted, made powerless, had rules from most writing books been applied.
Chuck Palahniuk described his work as "transgressive fiction" which is, according to Wiki, "a genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual and/or illicit ways." With this classification, I agree. The writing style needed to mirror the message, and it did.
Transgressive fiction does not shy from illicit action in its motivation to shock readers. Shock can be useful, if not overdone or made stale. However, of more interest to me--in transgressive fiction, the hero is generally seeking a means for improvement in self or in society. From Wiki, "Much transgressional fiction deals with searches for self-identity, inner peace, or personal freedom. Unbound by usual restrictions of taste and literary convention, its proponents claim that transgressive fiction is capable of pungent social commentary."
Fight Club has all the markings of its genre; the novel was true to its form. There's no need to criticize the violence or "gritty" prose. I wouldn't read space operas if I didn't like stories with space ships, for example.
One of the novel's premises is that men (only), and mostly those in public service or mind-numbing jobs, happily embrace beating and getting beaten as an outlet for pent-up anger. These beatings are not minor cuts and bruises; they go beyond the brutality of professional boxing. For this, I had to suspend belief. While some fellows might go for years of physical rehabilitation and chronic pain, I doubt the fad would survive in the real world. But this is fiction, so fine, lots of pissed off men feel good beating up one another. Camaraderie evolves into an organized cult, and its members, referred to by the protagonist as space monkeys, proceed to provoke Mayhem. Space monkeys are still enmeshed in mindless servitude, but they feel good about themselves.
Why all the physical bludgeoning? Rene Chun, a journalist for The New York Times, wrote that transgressive fiction is based on the premise that "knowledge is to be found at the edge of experience and that the body is the site for gaining knowledge." Interesting in premise. That may be why we exist on a physical plane.
That's what this novel was, for me. Interesting. Non-materialism. Non-conformist. Twists (especially that wonderful not-secret-anymore reveal) and turns that never felt dull. Some quotes that seem central to the story:
“I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars, advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we've been all raised by television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won't and we're slowly learning that fact. and we're very very pissed off.”
“We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens.”
“I’m breaking my attachment to physical power and possessions, because only through destroying myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit.”
“Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don't really need.”
“I just don't want to die without a few scars.”
“Disaster is a natural part of my evolution toward tragedy and dissolution.”
I read a statement by Chuck Palahniuk that in the original version, members of Project Mayhem castrated their victims. Chuck went as far as to describe a freezer full of testicles. Luckily, his editor convinced him to change the outcome. When the victims were shown mercy, Project Mayhem was redeemed. Chuck expressed appreciation to his editor for his editor's intervention. There are other gentle bits here and there to tame the violent beast.
What I didn't like about the novel, wasn't in the novel. Palahniuk says this is a story written for men, because 85% of the stories out there are for old women. This attitude is nuts. Spare me the stereotyping, please. Once a writer finishes their work, the reader owns it--no matter whether they were the intended audience or not.
So, why not 5 stars? While I found Fight Club
interesting and enjoyed the gritty=bad writing style, I felt the story could have been better, tighter, more connections made, etc, as was proven by the improvements made in the film version.