Fight Club was a book that restored my faith in literature.
When it first came out in 1996, I was simply blown away by the raw power of
Chuck Palahniuk's language, and the way he'd perfectly captured the
sarcastic, subversive spirit of the Usenet newsgroups in which I immersed
myself back then. (Turned out that Palahniuk had barely any access to the net
back then; even at his office, he was trapped behind a corporate firewall.) It
turned out to be a brilliant precursor of the end-of-the-millennium anti-
corporate-consumerist-culture that would lead to fighting in the streets of
Seattle during the WTO convention--held just weeks after the release of the
film adaptation starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. (The main instigators of
the street violence, in fact, were anarchists who were based much closer to
Palahniuk's home in Portland than to Seattle itself.)
What brought on such cynicism and black humor among so much of our
generation, I asked him. "I think it's sort of a defense mechanism," he
said. "Things are changing so fast, and standards are changing so fast
that it takes a twisted sense of humor not to just cry all the time. I
mean, you could take it all personally and kill yourself or you could
find some way of laughing at it." Since Fight Club, Palahniuk's
been able to laugh his way through three other novels and has
become something of an cult hero to a new
generation of readers--including yours truly.
RH: Let me start by saying, and I mean this as a compliment,
that you have a very twisted imagination.
CP: I wish it were just mine but it's really all of my friends. About
eighty percent of Fight Club is received information. I can go to parties
and say, "How many people have doctored food in the service industry?" and
get their stories... people write the books for me; all I've got to do is remember
everybody's stories and put them together. So, I can't take credit for most of
RH: So how did you first get interested in hearing these
CP: I was always disappointed when I went to read anything. I'd go to
the library and I'd pull fifty books off the shelf and none of them were
anything I wanted to read. And I always thought, you know, I could do
something better. And there's always stories that really stand out that make
me laugh out loud when people tell them. People have fantastically funny
stories. So I thought, why not collect these things instead of letting them be
wasted, letting them go out in thin air. I collect them and put them together
somehow and it seems to work.
RH: There's a lot of different types of stories that end up in the
book. You've got the support groups stories, the disease story, the
homemade bomb story, the homemade soap story... just a lot of
really bizarre stuff that all seems to click somehow.
CP: I don't know how it all clicks but I just feel that when people read
something, they should not have to go through slow parts. They should get a
lot for their attention and for their time. That's why I just end up putting
more and more in. Reading and books are up against a lot of entertainment
these days and it seems like movies, video, everything is getting better, except
somehow books just seem to lag behind. Part of what I was trying to do was
make a book as exciting as a movie or anything else a person might be doing
with that time.
RH: How much of the stuff in the book have you done?
CP: I've done a lot of it; almost all of it's been done by either me or my
friends. A friend of mine, Alice, who is sort of a survivalist, was teaching me
how to make soap at the same time another friend called and told me about
working in a dermatologist's office where they do liposuction. So nobody I
know ever actually made soap out of human fat, but that's how the two things
RH: The way the narrator of Fight Club tells the story, in
a very conversational tone with the occasional bizarre riff, is one
of its most striking features.
CP: I think the best story tellers right now are standup comedians
because they tell a story really conversationally and get to the point and they
make it brief and they keep your attention. The switch between first, second,
and third person, and the tenses, past, present, future, always jump around--I
love that and that's how I always try to write. Because that's how people tell a
story: You walk into a bar and there's a priest and the priest says to the guy... I
mean, it's just a really honest way of talking.
RH: Who were some of the writers you had in mind when you
were figuring out how you wanted to work with language?
CP: Amy Hempel, who wrote the short-story collection At the Gates of
the Animal Kingdom, and Mark Richard who wrote The Ice at the Bottom
of the World. And Thom Jones--when I heard that he had written a blurb
for Fight Club I was just overwhelmed, because I've always loved his
stuff. When I read his stories, I think, "Why can't more writing be like
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