I have always been a fan of Palahinuk’s original ‘Fight Club,’ and Fincher’s brilliant adaptation, a film I have watched repeatedly. It’s a fantastic concept, the manic alter ego capable of doing all the stuff you wish you had the balls to do, and the savage satire of consumerism (“the things you own end up owning you”) resonates ever more strongly as our embrace with shiny gadgets and latest must-haves gets ever tighter. The stories also have a lot to say about the crisis of modern masculinity and the difficulty of carving a meaningful male identity in a world of soggy and treacherous material values.
I picked up this with high hopes, and the blurb led me to expect truly great things. It involves Palahinuk himself as writer after all, as well as some brilliant talents in the comic industry today. How disappointing then to finish feel frustrated, empty and disappointed.
First, the pluses. Cameron Stewart’s art is mesmerising, and captures well some of the signature visual elements of Fight Club. His characters visually reinterpret Sebastian, Marla and Tyler but carry forward all the elements we love. Sebastian’s perpetual bowed head of subjection, Marla’s a tightly coiled, highly sexual spring, Tyler is a lean, muscular panther of a man, bold and kinetic. And yet they are not just copies of Edward Norton, Helen Bonham Carter and Brad Pitt, and that is good.
It’s fun to see Brian Paulson, the House on Paper Street and the support groups, the Space Monkeys and more also return and given fresh spins and perspectives. It’s also a neat concept to have Sebastian having kept Durden at bay (he thinks) through medication. Sebastian and Marla’s son ups the ante and gives a fresh dimension and urgency to things.
What frustrates is that the narrative falls flat. It’s way too ambitious, too knowing, constantly turning to wink at you instead of keeping its eyes on the narrative road. This is especially true in the last quarter of the book, where Chuck Palahinuk and his team of writers take center stage as characters, dealing with reader dissatisfaction of the story’s ending. It’s fourth wall busting that does not work. And it breaks a narrative that is already strained from over-ambition. It posits that Tyler has now developed a global military mercenary force, has a castle in Europe and is able to bring about a nuclear holocaust. The other central conceit is that Marla enlists the help of a support group of sufferers from Progeria (aging disease), children that look like small elderly people. They become a parachuting crack military force. It’s too absurd, it doesn’t work.
Where this is flabby and over-extended, the first ‘Fight Club’ was stripped back and mean, it had ambitious scope and pushed imaginative limits. This feels like a film sequel where the production team feel that a mega-budget and massive scale will solve everything.