"I still can't think of anything."
Fight Club was Chuck Palahniuk's debut novel, published in hardcover in August 1996. It was the first taste readers would get of his raw, brutal writing style, and set out many of the themes (hitting bottom, violence as catharsis, disenfrachisement with society, perceiving normal facts of life as atrocities) he would explore in his later novels: Survivor, Choke, and Lullaby.
While Fight Club was pubished before Invisible Monsters, it was actually written second, after Invisible Monsters had been rejected again and again for being "too dark." Palahniuk poured his frustration and depression into Fight Club, making it unquestionably darker and more violent than Invisible Monsters. Naturally, Fight Club was picked up relatively quickly, and went on to become a cult classic as both a novel and a film.
While the novel was a success, especially as dark, violent, and ultimately critical novels about modern society go, most people remember instead the movie adaptation, released to theatres in 1999, starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter. This movie (which was surprisingly true to the novel) was at turns thoughtful and violent, sarcastic and bitingly true, and was both a box-office hit and an instant cult classic. Many people have tried to interpret the movie as anything from a Biblical allegory to a fevered hallucination on the part of the protagonist, and the movie is full of memorable quotes, like any classic American movie.
"Everything is just a copy, of a copy, of a copy..."
Fight Club is the internal narrative of the unnamed protagonist, starting out with his pithy, cynical descriptions of his day-to-day life as a yuppie "cubicle jockey." All of the pent-up frustration with his life, not relieved by his consumerist excesses, is coming out as insomnia and hallucination. Despite being a success by any other measure, the narrator isn't happy with his life.
Looking for a way to let loose all of his pent up tension over his pointless, little life, the narrator takes to going to support groups and lying about this malady or that malady, looking for cheap sympathy. This brings him relief, for a while, until a callous and intriguing woman and a anarchistic stranger enter his life, and destroy everything he ever believed, about himself or the world.
BELOW THIS POINT ARE SPOILERS THAT WILL DESTROY YOUR ENJOYMENT OF THE MOVIE OR NOVEL! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
"And suddenly I realize that all of this: the gun, the bombs, the revolution...has got something to do with a girl named Marla Singer."
Marla Singer, a twisted and cynical bitch, has started going to the same support groups, relieving her own boredom. ("It's cheaper than a movie, and there's free coffee.") Her presence, her lie ruins the protagonist's catharsis, bringing back his crippling insomnia.
And then, on a business trip, he meets Tyler Durden. Tyler is attractive, determined, organized, charismatic, and, in the narrator's words, "free in all the ways [the narrator] is not." As the narrator's life comes down around his ears, strikingly symbolized by the unexplainable detonation of his apartment (apparently caused by a faulty stove or leaky gas line).
"I want you to hit me as hard as you can."
Left with only a fiery ruin for a home, he turned to the closest thing to a friendly ear he could find: Tyler Durden's business card. Tyler and the narrator become fast friends, as the narrator finds himself attracted to Tyler's nihilistic and antimaterialistic worldview. He even rises to Tyler's first challenge: a fight, in the parking lot.
From here, the narrator and Tyler's friendship and Tyler's curious lust/ignore relationship with Marla grow, alongside Tyler's odd vision of "Fight Clubs," anonymous gatherings of men of all classes, beating the crap out of each other for some form of catharsis, relieving their stress and their frustration and their social impotence.
"He's setting up fucking franchises."
The narrator, looking only for an escape from his dreary life, seems content with this, but Tyler, ever in charge, wants more and more. Slowly, he spreads Fight Clubs all over the country, and begins coordinating michievous terrorism. This Project Mayhem, set up without the narrator's knowledge, takes on a life of its own, even as Tyler disappears from the narrator's life. One night, he discovers Tyler's plans to demolish the headquarters of several major banks and credit card companies, to destroy the credit records.
This isn't the only revelation. The narrator finally discovers that he is Tyler Durden, that all of this is what he wanted, and that Tyler is the person he wants to be. Tyler and the narrator are just two halves of his own personality, warring for control of himself. In a final confrontation before the bombs are detonated, the narrator takes control, but too late to stop the demolition.
In the novel, the narrator is institutionalized, unsure of who he really is or what he really did. The movie isn't so grim, ending everything with a strangely sweet scene as the narrator and Marla hold hands, watching the destruction, to the voice of Black Francis wailing the lyrics of Where Is My Mind?, until the credits.
"You are not your hopes. You will not be saved. We are all going to die, someday."
The novel and movie are surprisingly close to each other, save for the endings. The novel has some additional material about the relationship between Marla and the narrator and Tyler, and Project Mayhem is considerably less benign in the novel's version. In particular, the final destruction of the bank offices is less harmless; the evacuation in the movie never happened in the novel.