Joseph Edwin Haeger

Book Review: Why We Don’t Talk about Fight Club: Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club 2

Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Fight Club 2 by Chuck Palahniuk.


It seems like Chuck Palahniuk has been on the fringe of transgressive writing since his start. His plots and characters are generally dark and uncomfortable, but for the most part hilarious. The humor Palahniuk is able to weave into his stories is what gives me an access way into his books. While his early books were uncomfortable, he tended to play within the confines of accessible form. When Pygmy came out in 2009 he started to play with form and style. Pygmy is the story of a terrorist youth coming to America under the guise of an exchange student. The novel is written in broken English and, much like Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, the work doesn’t slow down to let the reader acclimate to the voice. I thought it was a commendable effort on Palahniuk’s part, but in the end it seemed like he was bored and was using an experimental voice to spice up the writing as opposed to using it for the advantage of the novel. He’s written more books in between Pygmy and Fight Club 2 (some more experimental than others), but Fight Club 2 is the first time I’ve really enjoyed his stylistic bending. Fight Club 2 is a graphic novel (in partnership with artist Cameron Stewart), and this medium lends itself nicely to the metafictional tale Palahniuk spins.

The graphic novel begins ten years after the end of Fight Club. Our narrator—known as Sebastian, this time around—has married Marla Singer and they have a nine-year-old son together. Sebastian is on a cocktail of psychiatric prescriptions to keep his mental illness at bay, but in Marla’s boredom and discontent she has started swapping his pills for Advil and sugar pills—and thus, we see the reemergence of Tyler Durden, the anarchist side of Sebastian’s split personality. The first half of the book is fairly straightforward as Sebastian’s house burns down and his son goes missing. The main plot is a race against the clock while Marla looks for their son in her own way and Sebastian looks in his—which is to rejoin the fight club. There are callbacks to the first book, but they read more like fan fiction than a true sequel; by the end I realize it was all done on purpose.

The second half becomes experimental. Chuck Palahniuk is written in as a character that is currently writing Fight Club 2, and is bouncing different plot ideas off the members of his real-life writing group (members have included Lidia Yuknavitch, Monica Drake, Chelsea Cain). In the end, a crowd sieges upon the group and demands a better sequel. Palahniuk is using the meta device essentially to showcase his inability to live (or write) up to the expectations of the cult following Fight Club has garnered. He also picks at the people who have come to love Tyler Durden as a cinematic character instead of a literary one, having panels where people are dumbfounded that the 1999 David Fincher film is based on a book. Palahniuk does a good job of showing us that characters, just like ideas, can outgrow the source material. What Tyler Durden now represents for so many people is much more than the antagonist Palahniuk must have envisioned when he wrote Fight Club back in the nineties. And now, because of the icon status, Palahniuk has found that he is unable to write a satisfying conclusion, so instead goes about dismantling it.

I can see how this choice will leave many disappointed, but isn’t that kind of the point? He deconstructed the rules by bringing back dead characters and setting a precedent that anything goes in Fight Club 2, and then took it even further by placing himself at the center of the story. Palahniuk isn’t so much writing a sequel as he’s challenging us readers to reconsider and examine what art and pop culture mean to us. In this analysis, we’re supposed to think about what kind of sequel would have met our expectations, and I’d wager to say there isn’t any version that could live up to the nerve the first Fight Club was able to touch—and now it’s up to us to determine why that’s the case.




Joseph Edwin Haeger

Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of Learn to Swim (University of Hell Press, 2015). His writing has appeared in The Pacific NW Inlander, RiverLit, Hippocampus Magazine, and others. He lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife and son.

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