Tuesday, January 29, 2008

FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club is, on balance, inferior to its film adaptation. To be fair, it's Palahniuk's first novel and probably not the screenwriter's first movie, but it is a story that seems to work better, in many ways, on film. Like most popular fiction--indeed, like most American thought--it's performed (written) with media models in mind, so the postmodern medium of film seems a more natural home for this material than the pre-modern novel. The movie was also a more intelligent and self-conscious work, was more surprising overall, and, not least, had a much stronger ending. (C.P. leaves some questions unanswered, such as: How did the narrator escape from that bus in a late chapter [or did he?]). The movie also, mercifully, doesn't emphasize the book's Christian parable theme, which suggests that the fight club is a form of left-hand Christianity, sinning to attract the attention of God. This is a very silly, transparently juvenile theme which the author himself ultimately ironizes in the heaven/nuthouse of the last chapter.

One thing this novel, along with Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist, does suggest to me is the efficacy of building a fiction around a constructed metaphor that is symbolically rich (the fight club and Project Mayhem; elevator inspectors). A novel built around such an idea can be a very effective satirical novel of ideas. Thinking up such a symbol is the most deeply imaginative part of writing, perhaps the hardest mental work a writer does.

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