Book Review : Chuck Palahniuk - Fight Club 2 (2016)
"Human beings don't cultivate ideas. On the contrary...ideas cultivate us."
Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 Fight Club is the most important book I've ever read. Perhaps it isn't the best written or the most groundbreaking book I've read, but no other work of fiction had a stronger impact on me. Fight Club shaped the person I've become and occupies a sacred place in my heart. I'm sure there are others who think of Palahniuk's novel with the same reverence. It's perfect in its imperfection. That's why I was intrigued and terrified when the author announced a ten-episode sequel that would be released as a comic book. I admired the guts and the shrewd timing of the announcement, but an important question remained: why the fuck would you reopen the best thing you've ever done and endanger its legacy?
Fortunately, Fight Club 2 provided answers to my questions and these answers were satisfying in general.
Fight Club 2 is set ten years after the events of the novel. The narrator is now married to Marla, has a son and works a desk job for a private military contractor. He calls himself Sebastian now. He lives a quiet and alienating suburban existence up until the day he finds out Marla has grown tired of their life and went back to support groups. That's when Sebastian and Marla's quitoxic little world starts collapsing and reality begins wavering. Their house mysteriously burns one night, killing their son and hurling them back into a world they thought they left behind forever. Tyler is back (in fact, he never left) and he has ambitious plans for Sebastian and Marla.
So, why would Chuck Palahniuk even want to reopen Fight Club with a sequel? My educated guess is that while the novel changed the world in its own way, it ended right where most novels/movies do: when the protagonist gets the girl. That neatly packaged ended allowed Tyler to remain a cultural icon because he was dealt with, mastered, ushering the protagonist into an unknown and exciting future where the credit system had collapsed. Tyler Durden never truly died, though. As a protagonist or as a concept. He domineered over the psyche of young men for the two following decades and therein lies the need for a sequel. Fight Club 2 isn't really a sequel, though. It's more of a conclusion to an open-ended folktale that grew significantly better than its creator.
The real question here is: if you were Chuck Palahniuk why WOULDN'T you reopen Fight Club with a sequel? Tyler Durden has grown too big for his own creator and too big for what he was meant to be. He's become a commodity, a disposable philosophy for men looking to feel better about themselves. Chuck Palahniuk wanted to destroy something beautiful. That's why Fight Club 2 is metafictional. It's not an attempt to repackage old ideas and resell them to you under a brand new, sexy title. It's a showdown between a creator and his greatest creation. A loser-leaves-town match where the outcome is their respective legacies. For that reason it is bound to be either worshiped or hated with unbridled passion because the entire point of its existence is to attack Tyler Durden's rock star status.
Whether you like it or not, Chuck Palahniuk gets the job done. If you've been worshiping at the altar of Tyler Durden for the past twenty years, you're going to be quite offended by Fight Club 2. Tyler is back and he doesn't look anything like Brad Pitt anymore. He's violent and rapacious and more ethereal than ever. He attacks ideas more sacred than ever, splits families, drops bodies and shows a selfishness we didn't know of him. The transition to comic book format also allowed Chuck Palahnuik to go completely over-the-top with the scope of Tyler's ambitions. If you thought reality was an afterthought in Fight Club, you're clearly not ready for what Fight Club 2 has in store for you. It's not the pop culture philosophical guide that its predecessor was. It's a savage piece of iconoclasm from a creator wanting to tame the beast he once unleashed upon the world.
I really liked Fight Club 2, yet I would understand if you hated it. Tyler Durden raised an entire generation of young men looking for meaning to their lives. He lead me to a martial arts gym and made a man out of me. Lots of readers will take this new portrayal of Tyler personal, like Chuck Palahniuk was directly insulting their dad. I get it. I thought Palahniuk was really careful about giving his readers something substantial, though. Fight Club 2 is not a cheap cash-in. It's a courageous project from a gifted and confident storyteller looking to break a mythos that has spun out of control. Fight Club 2 was brilliant from cover-to-cover and, unlike its predecessor, ended on a perfect note. I can see how Fight Club 3 could exist, but the circle is complete. Fight Club 2 is the only possible conclusion to the ravenous phenomenon that has spread through the minds of young men like meningitis over the last two decades.
The greatest thing about it is that you're free to love or hate it, but you HAVE to read it.