(Warning: contains spoilers if you haven’t read/watched Fight Club.)
Yes, Fight Club is an excellent book, but it pulls its punches.
It’s the equivalent of MMA fighting. The claim is “no holds barred”, but in reality, anything likely to cause real, lasting injury is forbidden. Everyone gets up, cleans up, and goes home to fight again another day. That is the case with the fictional Fight Club in the book, and it is the case with the novel and movie called Fight Club.
Palahniuk spends the first part of the book haranguing us about the shallowness of modern life, and sucking us into a reality in which Tyler Durden is building up a rebellion that will ultimately destroy modern industrial civilization and return us to a hunter-gatherer existence. “In the world I see—you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.”
Remember that speech from the movie? It’s even longer in the book.
And just when we’re starting to feel uneasy—because we’ve been going along and nodding our heads at every awkward truth about ourselves that comes out of Tyler’s mouth—just when we’re starting to confront the basic ugliness and inhumanity that lies behind even the richest civilization in history, which is ours…
…Palahniuk reveals that the narrator and Tyler are the same person, and that Tyler runs the body while Joe/Jack is asleep.
What a relief! Just when we were starting to have to take Tyler Durden seriously, the author lets us off the hook by revealing that it’s all done with mirrors. Tyler is just the narrator’s crazy alter ego—and suddenly the entire story is shrinkwrapped with an airtight layer of “That can’t really happen.” Suddenly we can regard all those awkward truths with ironic distance, suddenly Fight Club is just a book after all, and we can all go back to work without needing to punch our boss or piss in the coffeemaker. The revolution has been televised—on hundreds of millions of DVD players, over and over again.
In contrast, The Gnoll Credo drops us into an apparently fantastic world, with gnolls and orcs and lion-men. But as the book progresses, we slowly come to realize that their world has the same rules as our own—no magic, no gods controlling our fates, and no narrators leading an impossible double life. And as we learn more and more about gnolls, we slowly come to realize that they aren’t so different from humans after all…
And that is where Chuck Palahniuk would have pulled his punch. Just when the reader starts to become uncomfortable, he introduces an unbelievable element that allows us to retain a safe, ironic distance from the events and the message of Fight Club.
I don’t pull my punches.
I follow through, all the way to the end.
Instead of distancing you, pushing you away, I finish the narrative cleanly and without compromising.
Then, in the Epilogue, I pull the reader out of the world of the book and into the present time, confronting you directly with the consequences of what you’ve just read, and forcing you to decide—for yourself—where that leaves us, both as individuals and collectively as a species.
And that is the difference between me and Chuck Palahniuk.