The Short Version: Ten years have passed since the end of Fight Club – and in that time, Sebastian (that’s his name, now) and Marla got married and had a baby and discovered the mundanity of ordinary life. But Tyler Durden wasn’t just a split personality… and he certainly isn’t gone…
The Review: I think everybody and their mother had a moment of head-scratching when it was announced that Chuck Palahniuk was not only writing a sequel to Fight Club but that it would take the form of a limited-run comic. It’s been done before, taking a story and writing a comic book prologue or sequel or what-have-you – for example, the prelude comics for Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series added some great background on young Roland’s adventures – but… Fight Club? Fight Club 2? Really? And Chuck’s last six or so novels have been of questionable merit (although I’d argue that Beautiful You showed some of the old spark, as did Damned) – but his short story collection from last year, Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread, was downright revelatory to the point of reminding me why I fucking love Palahniuk so much. All this to say, I came in with fingers crossed, hoping for the best and anticipating the worst…
…and it gives me great pleasure to report that Chuck has not only delivered a sequel worthy of the name, but one of the best things he’s written in ages in any medium. (For those who want an unsullied experience, a warning that SPOILERS abound after this.)
The setup is simple enough, quickly hitting some nostalgia buttons while also establishing the new world: our narrator (now going by Sebastian) has gotten married to Marla and is in a narcotic haze most of the time, after his… troubled time. He’s been seeing a shrink, he’s got a precocious little psychopath of a kid, and his marriage is in trouble: the book opens on their wedding anniversary and Marla has returned to support groups again. Oh and people keep calling him Mr. Durden – a name he is quick to rebuff, every time.
All of this makes sense. Of course Sebastian settled into mundanity, of course Marla misses the old spark, and so on. The plot kicks off, you might say, with the reveal that Marla has been swapping out Sebastian’s pills for placebos – and it seems like it might not be so bad for a minute there, what with another rambunctious sex scene like the ones they had when Tyler was driving. But Tyler, as it turns out, hasn’t been far from the surface this whole time.
The revelations about Tyler are some of Palahniuk’s most ambitious and craziest plot twists ever – and, look, that’s saying something. There were hints of Tyler being something more than just Sebastian’s alter ego and when Tyler made an appearance in “Expedition”, one of the short stories in Make Something Up, I wondered what Palahniuk was planning to do with him. Near as I can figure it, it seems like Tyler is some sort of entity in and of himself that has existed in the bloodline of the narrator’s family for centuries – which sounds ridiculous and is even mocked as such at one point in the book. But Palahniuk is playing a way longer game that you realize at first.
See, he’s also inserted himself into the story. (Maybe that Dark Tower reference wasn’t so far off after all.) In fact, not just him – but his writing group, including but not limited to Monica Drake and Lidia Yuknavitch. They’ll occasionally be workshopping something and these characters will call up or show up and Chuck will have to deal with them – and the writers, in fact, help Chuck write his characters out of plot holes, etc. This all works very well in the graphic novel format and I think it’d’ve been a total failure in regular prose, so again I’m astounded by Chuck’s gleeful intelligence: the man is never far from an idea so insane that it ends up working brilliantly.
I bring all of this up because the rough outline of the rest of the plot – Marla & Sebastian’s son has been kidnapped by Tyler, Sebastian decides to go off his meds and return to Project Mayhem in the hopes of tracking down Tyler and the kid while Marla goes off on her own quest to save the kid, not to mention the moments of total absurdity and moments of shoutout to those who know the first volume (or the film) chapter-and-verse – is all leading up to a sort of meta-redux of the original plot. If the narrator of the original novel had Tyler stuck in his head and had to try to get rid of him, so too does Chuck have these characters stuck in his head and this is his attempt to get rid of all of them.
The only thing is, he’s unsuccessful. Tyler Durden is bigger than his creator now – and that’s the message Chuck delivers in the final issue. The plot gets resolved in a very silly, very grandiose way that is totally Chuck, and then the actual book winds up with Chuck and Tyler walking down a beach together. Marla is pregnant again, this time with Tyler’s baby, and Chuck crows about his own foreshadowing with the “I want to have your abortion” line – and then Tyler, after asking if Chuck actually wrote her getting the abortion yet (he hadn’t), shoots Chuck in the goddamn head. The end of this book is the bloody stump of Chuck Palahniuk’s obliterated skull and Tyler Durden hugging a dog and saying “I’m gonna be a dad!”
So, yeah. There’s that.
But before I go, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the moment where Chuck confronts a mob of angry Fight Club lovers and he yells at them about the way that the movie altered the ending of the book, for the worse, because it totally messed up the intended message – and this whole thing was delightful. It felt, perhaps even more than the ending showdown between god and god, like a moment of Chuck both retaking control of his literary legacy… and like a moment of him saying “ah, fuck it.” As someone who enjoys the Fincher film for lots of reasons but has always believed it inferior to the book (and who believes that it has irrevocably altered the book’s reputation / who believes that the movie was misinterpreted by people too dumb to get the satire), this was awesome. Just great.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5. Okay, don’t worry: Chuck’s still as weird as ever. Maybe even more so.So what if the book is a little scattershot and the actual plot is a little thin? The art is fantastic, the meta-madness increasingly batty, and the end result way more fun than it had any right to be. He’s talking about a Fight Club 3 already – this one, somewhere along the line, picked up a subtitle (“The Tranquility Gambit”) and there’s an implication that Tyler is going to continue to try and run (slash destroy and rebuild) the world via Sebastian – but perhaps this presages the true revitalization of one of the most fantastic literary talents of our time. At the very least, he did well by his own legacy – and, anymore, that’s all we can really ask for.