Friday, February 27, 2009

Books: Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk

Reading a book after seeing the movie—especially after seeing the movie five or six times—can be a challenge, especially when the movie follows the text so closely as it does in this case. Reading, I heard Ed Norton, Brad Pitt’s voice. I saw their faces. The only marked departure at first was Marla Singer, who seemed in the book quite other than Helena Bonham Carter’s character—the filmic Marla is isolated and alone; Marla-in-the-book has a mother (a mother, in fact, whose liposuctioned fat provides the first batch of soap-making material, rather than the biohazardous waste dumpster our heroes raid in the movie), though we never actually meet her.

But a bigger difference emerges quickly—the Tyler-is-Tyler (i.e. the Brad Pitt-is-Ed Norton) truth reveals itself sooner; is, dare I say, over-foreshadowed. And rather than buying into Fight Club the way I think director David Fincher does, writer Chuck Palahniuk knows from the start that it’s a sick joke—the book is completely without the film’s dark optimism, Nietzschean (positive) nihilism. Instead, Tyler (the Ed Norton-Tyler) is sick, insane, and therefore just sort of sad. The book ends not with the dark and glorious explosions of the film, but with Ed-Tyler padding around a hospital for the insane, swallowing pills from a cup. There remains a very slight sense of menace—some of the orderlies sport black eyes and tell Tyler that they miss him—but all-in-all, the nation-sweeping reclamation of individual power championed by the film just isn’t as promising in the book. I finished it feeling a little mopey, rather than completely charged and ready to grab my life by the hair.

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