Book Supplement

Deconstruc-tion for the Masses

We Are Hungering for Something Else

Celebrity Is Never an Art

The Anatomy of Difficulty

Reviewers Who Love Too Much

New Pornographers' Manifesto

Record Label Turns to publishing

What Poetry is For

THE THRILL OF GRIEF

Charles Mudede on His Sister-In-Law

Plastiques

A Moment in the Park with Galaxy Craze

Poetry That Pushes

NO END TO TRYING

The World From Inside a Tiny Writing Group

Sex: Fiction's Hamburger Helper

Fame! I'm Going to live Forever!

What You Might at First Hate

MEET THE NARRATEMES

Bruce à la Bruce

Gary Lutz, Anaesthete

Rifficult Deading

LIGHTNING ON PAPER

J'Accuse!: An Argument About the Value of Conflict of Interest in Books Criticism

Scandinavian Sex

Bret Easton Ellis

The Year of Reading about Proust

THE JIMINY CRICKET INSIDE ME

Reviews

The Ether Sex

PORTLAND'S OWN Chuck Palahniuk is royal flushed with success. He's facing a full house at the Elliott Bay Book Company to read from his new book, Invisible Monsters. But his first words -- "Wow. Look at all of you. Where the hell were all of you four years ago when I read Fight Club here to two people?" -- and the audience's excited laughter that follows, reveal the event unfolding: These people are here to meet the man who has met Brad Pitt. And the man who has met Brad Pitt is here to tell them about it.

Before starting to read, he chats for a few minutes about the film: "It's a huge success.... It's two hours and 20 minutes, but it feels like you've only been in the theater 15 minutes." He unreels a few of his favorite anecdotes about being on the set with Brad Pitt and director David Fincher. Then, as an update, he tells the room that his other two books, Survivor and Invisible Monsters, have both been optioned by major studios to become movies as well. There is an appreciative murmur. In the introduction to the passage he will read from Survivor, Palahniuk describes how the book was "untouchable" even to interested publishers, because of its playful use of suicide. Rather than bend, he says, he wrote Fight Club, which was even more grotesque. Enter massive financial and popular success. When he refers to the brutal violence and nihilism in his work, Palahniuk uses the word outré, as in "They didn't know what to do with my outré style."

Palahniuk's writing is outré; the essential goal of his fiction is to turn sickness into power and capability. His prose is terse, funny, coldly shocking. In Fight Club, Palahniuk argues that violence is the last real form of honesty, and that protecting oneself from violence, from committing or receiving violence, is shallow. In all three of his novels, the key to self-realization is pain, and learning to enjoy the affliction and receiving of it. In the inverted world he creates, violence is intimacy, just as anarchy is an expression of hope in one's community, in trusting it to still be there, cleansed of class consciousness and civilization's boring chores, after the tired old world has been razed.

From violent book to violent movie: Thirty-seven days after W. W. Norton agreed to publish the novel, Palahniuk sold Fight Club's screen rights to 20th Century Fox. There has been a deliberately tantalizing publicity campaign for the film, intended to produce a groundswell of popular curiosity. It also has behind it that certain aura of legitimacy and respect that comes with the release of a movie that is expected to "push the envelope" of violent cinema. I gather (at the time of this writing I haven't seen the movie, since it isn't out yet) that the film hews close to the book, and that the film, like the book, will be considered daring in its refusal to condemn violence, and in its stubborn celebration of violence as honesty. It promises, like most gritty films, to rejuvenate violence, to make it fresh and exciting again.

It is tempting to question the wisdom, the purpose even, of having charismatic Brad Pitt play Fight Club's charismatic Tyler Durden for the film-going masses, cooing Tyler's homicidal magic in the ear of the greater public. To a reader, when Tyler Durden makes a point, he is compelling but mad. When Brad Pitt makes a point -- but he's acting, right? Brad Pitt is Tyler Durden, for the purpose of this movie. He is playing a beautiful madman, a blue-collar death priest. But something about Brad Pitt -- charisma given life and breath -- mouthing Tyler's words feels intangibly dangerous. Not just in the exciting, romantically abstract sense of danger, but in the sense of a trigger being squeezed. Maybe this is not something the world needs, right this second.

"What, like violence hasn't been invented up to this point?" Palahniuk asks me in our post-reading interview. "I think if anything, [Fight Club] will make honest violence okay." He sees a distinction in the possible motives for violence. "David [Fincher] is really big on this too," he continues. "It's the dishonest, chickenshit violence that disgusts us. People walking into churches or schools with automatic weapons, as opposed to just.... You know, Fight Club violence is entirely consensual between adults. It's an honest expression of violence between two people."

It should be said here that Fight Club's main character Tyler establishes Project Mayhem, a group of subversives who use fistfights, automatic weapons, and explosives to bludgeon the world into change.

Palahniuk is enthusiastic about the effect that the film of his book could have on its viewers. He confides, "David said to me, 'You know, Chuck, we're not just selling the movie Fight Club. We're selling the idea of fight clubs.'"

The violence of Fight Club (or fight clubs) does not remain consensual. It tends toward unfocused destruction. Fight clubs are an integral part of Palahniuk's twisted fictional world; the whole novel winds up tight and explodes with a tension each individual reader can feel. On film, "the idea of fight clubs" is being sold to the broadest possible audience; it is being intentionally made compelling and seductive.

Yet, Palahniuk insists, "I never really feel responsible for the audience's reaction at all. I feel like you just have to do your very best to deliver the information, to deliver your message, and you can't control people's reaction or their response or how they take it. All you can do is control the skill and the craft with which you present it. So, you know, I certainly hope it makes an enormous amount of money for Fox and that they feel rewarded for taking this risk, but beyond that, I'm not really tied to anybody's response."

Fight Club Rains Down on Chuck Palahniuk