- This article is for the novel. For the film based on this novel, see Fight Club (film). For the game, see Fight Club (game)
Fight Club (1996) is the first published novel by Chuck Palahniuk. The plot is based around an unnamed protagonist who struggles with a growing discomfort with consumerism and changes in the state of masculinity in American culture. In an attempt to overcome this, he creates an underground boxing club as a new form of therapy. The novel was made into a movie of the same name in 1999 by director David Fincher, which resulted in the story becoming a pop culture phenomenon. A reissued version of the novel was published in 2004 that begins with an introduction by the author which talks about the conception and popularity of both the novel and the movie.
When Palahniuk made his first attempt at publishing a novel (Invisible Monsters) publishers rejected it for being too disturbing. This led him to work on Fight Club, which he wrote as an attempt to disturb the publisher even more for rejecting him. Palahniuk wrote this story in between working while on the job for Freightliner. After initially publishing it as a short story in the compilation Pursuit of Happiness (which would become chapter 6 of the novel), Palahniuk expanded it into a full novel, which, contrary to what he expected, the publisher was willing to publish. While the original, hardcover edition of the book received positive reviews and some awards, it had a short shelf life. Nevertheless, the book had made its way to Hollywood, where interest in adapting it to film was growing. It was eventually adapted in 1999 by director David Fincher. The film was a box office disappointment (although it was #1 at the U.S. box office in its first weekend) and critical reaction was mixed, but a cult following soon emerged. Two paperback rereleases of the novel, one in 1999 and the other in 2004, were later made. This success helped launch Palahniuk's career as a popular novelist, as well as establish a writing style that would appear in all later books by the author.
Many events in the novel were based on events that Palahniuk himself had experienced. The support groups that the narrator attends are based on support groups that the author brought terminally ill people to as part of a volunteer job he did for a local hospice. The club itself was based on a series of fights that Palahniuk got into over previous years (most notably one that he got into during a camping trip). Project Mayhem is loosely based on the Cacophony Society, of which Palahniuk is a member. Various events and characters are based on friends of the author.
Outside of Palahniuk's professional and personal life, the novel's impact has been felt elsewhere. Several individuals in various locations of the United States (and possibly in other countries) have set up their own fight clubs based on the one mentioned in the novel. Some of Tyler's on-the-job pranks (such as food tampering) have been repeated by fans of the book (although these same pranks existed well before the novel was published). Palahniuk eventually documented this phenomenon in his essay "Monkey Think, Monkey Do", which was published in his book Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, as well as in the introduction to the 2004 paperback edition of Fight Club. Other fans of the book have been inspired to non-anti-social activity as well; Palahniuk has claimed that fans tell him that they have been inspired to go back to college after reading the book. Additionally, Fight Club is sometimes referenced in pop culture, having been referred to in television shows, music, and video games (for instance, Futurama and Warcraft III).
Other than the film, a few other adaptations have been attempted. As of June 23, 2004 Fight Club is in development as a musical, developed by Palahniuk, Fincher, and Trent Reznor. A video game loosely based on the film was published by Vivendi Universal Games in 2004, receiving poor reviews.
The book centers around a nameless narrator who hates his job and the way his life currently is. The narrator works for an unnamed car company, organising recalls on defective models if and only if the cost of the recall is less than the total cost of out-of-court settlements paid to relatives of the deceased (which parallels the 1970s story of Ford Pinto recalls). This combined with his growing disenchantment with the consumerist lifestyle he has been living cause him to suffer from chronic insomnia.
At the recommendation of his doctor (who doesn't consider insomnia to be a serious ailment), the narrator goes to a support group for men with testicular cancer to "see what real suffering is like". After finding that crying at these support groups and listening to emotional outpourings from suffering individuals allows him to sleep at night, he becomes addicted to attending them. At the same time, he befriends a cancer victim named Bob. Although he does not suffer from any of the ailments that the other attendants have, he is nevertheless never caught being a "tourist". However, one day at a support group he meets Marla Singer, a woman who also attends support groups without needing them for their original purpose. Her presence "reflects" the narrator's "tourism", and only reminds him that he doesn't belong at the support groups. This causes him to be unable to cry and consequently causes him to hate Marla. As a result of both of these factors, the narrator is once again unable to control his insomnia. After a short confrontation between the two, they begin going to separate support groups in order to avoid bumping into each other again.
His life changes radically when, in the aftermath of this incident, he meets Tyler Durden, a beach artist who works low-paying jobs at night in order to perform deviant behavior on the job. After the narrator's condo is destroyed by an explosion, he asks Tyler if he can stay at his place. Tyler agrees, but asks for one favor: "I want you to hit me as hard as you can." The resulting fight in a bar's parking lot attracts more disenchanted males, and a new form of support group, the first "fight club", is born. The fight club becomes a new type of therapy through bare-knuckle fighting, controlled by a set of eight rules (the first rule is repeated for emphasis):
- You do not talk about fight club.
- You do not talk about fight club.
- If someone says "stop," goes limp, or taps out, the fight is over.
- Only two guys to a fight.
- One fight at a time.
- No shirts, no shoes.
- Fights go on as long as they have to.
- If this is your first night at fight club, you have to fight.
As the fight club's membership grows (and, unbeknownst to the narrator, spreads to other cities across the country), Tyler begins to use it to spread anti-consumerist ideas and recruits its members to participate in increasingly elaborate attacks on corporate America. This was originally the narrator's idea, but Tyler eventually takes control from him and the narrator becomes uncomfortable with the increasing destructiveness of their activities after it results in the death of Bob. Tyler eventually gathers the most devoted fight club members and forms "Project Mayhem", a cult-like organization that trains itself as an army to bring down modern civilization. This organization, like the fight club, is controlled by a set of rules:
- You do not ask questions.
- You do not ask questions.
- No excuses.
- No lies.
- You have to trust Tyler.
As the narrator endeavors to stop Tyler and his followers, he comes to realize that he is Tyler (a classic example of an unreliable narrator). Tyler is not a separate person, but a separate personality; he is born from the narrator's unconscious want to be with Marla despite his conscious hatred for her, which was the final straw in causing his mind to snap from the stress of his life. Having come to the surface, Tyler's personality has been slowly taking over the narrator's mind, which he planned to take over completely by making the narrator's real personality more like his. The narrator's previous cases of insomnia had actually been Tyler's personality surfacing; Tyler would be active whenever the narrator was "sleeping". This allowed Tyler to manipulate the narrator into helping him create fight club; Tyler learned recipes for creating explosives when he was in control, and used this knowledge to blow up his condo.
The narrator also learns that Tyler plans to blow up several buildings in the downtown area of the city using homemade bombs created by Project Mayhem. During these explosions, he plans to die as a martyr for Project Mayhem, consequently taking the narrator's life with his. Realizing this, the narrator sets out to stop Tyler, despite the fact that Tyler is always thinking ahead of him. In his attempts to stop this, he makes peace with Marla (who now considers the narrator to be her boyfriend) and explains to her that he is not Tyler Durden. He is eventually forced by Tyler to confront him on the roof of the tallest building in the city, which is about to be destroyed along with the other buildings that Project Mayhem has targeted. There, the narrator manages to convince Tyler that he has no control over him anymore and that he will be the only one making decisions for himself from now on. This causes his hallucinations of Tyler to stop, ridding the narrator of his second personality for good.
With Tyler gone, the narrator waits for the bombs to explode and kill him. However, the bombs turn out to be duds due to the fact that Project Mayhem used a bad explosives recipe. Still alive and holding the gun that Tyler used to carry on him, the narrator decides to make the first decision that is truly his own: he puts the gun in his mouth and shoots himself. Some time later, he awakens in a mental institution, though he believes that he is dead and has gone to heaven. From there, he gets regular visits from Marla, who still cares for him. The book ends with members of Project Mayhem who work at the institution telling the narrator that their plans to change civilization as we know it are continuing to go through, and that they are expecting Tyler to make a return.
- The narrator - The nameless protagonist (though he shows Marla his driver's license with his real name). He starts the story suffering from insomnia, and starts going to support groups for terminally ill people (he fakes that he is dying of their diseases) to help him sleep at night (through crying at them). He eventually quits going to them after he becomes part of fight club. He co-founds fight club along with Tyler Durden as a method of dealing with his insomnia and annoyance with consumer culture. Some fans of the film refer to the narrator as "Jack", which is in reference to a scene in the film which he reads stories written from the perspective of a man's organs (i.e. "Jack's Medulla Oblongata"). The name "Jack" was "Joe" in the novel, which was changed in the film to avoid conflicts with Reader's Digest over the use of the name (the articles read by the narrator were featured in the magazine).
- Tyler Durden - A nihilist with a serious hatred for consumer culture. Tyler works night jobs just to cause problems for the companies; he also does beach art to find "perfection". He is the co-founder of fight club (it was his idea to have the fight that led to it). He later launches Project Mayhem, from which he and the members make various attacks on consumerism.
- Marla Singer - A woman that the narrator meets during a support group. Marla causes the narrator to lose interest in the groups when he realizes that she is faking her problems just like he is. After he leaves the groups, he meets her again when she meets Tyler and becomes his lover.
- Robert "Bob" Paulson - A man that the narrator meets at a support group for testicular cancer. Bob lost his testicles to cancer and had to undergo testosterone injections; this resulted in his body increasing its estrogen, causing him to grow large breasts and develop a softer voice. The narrator befriends Bob and, after leaving the groups, meets him again in fight club. Bob's death later in the story while carrying out an assignment for Project Mayhem causes the narrator to turn against Tyler.
The novel won the following awards:
- the 1997 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award
- the 1997 Oregon Book Award for Best Novel