Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Delaware and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (1996)

Wilmington, the largest city in the state of Delaware, and the setting for Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel Fight Club, has a longstanding reputation as an attractive hub to businesses and corporations due to its efficient judicial system and pro-business finance laws, including laws protecting Delaware chartered corporations from hostile takeovers and The Financial Center Development Act of 1981 which removed the cap on interest rates that banks may legally charge customers. As a result Wilmington has become a national financial center for the credit card industry. Many major credit card issuers, including Bank of America, Chase Card Services, and Barclays Bank of Delaware are headquartered in Wilmington, as are the American operations of the United Kingdom's HSBC. All this goes some way to explaining why Chuck Palahniuk had Wilmington in mind when he wrote Fight Club, with its anti-consumer culture themes and scenes of organised "mischief" directed against large corporations. Although the book never explicitly states where it is set, there are clues peppered throughout, though much more prominently so in the 1999 David Fincher film adaptation (the narrator's business card includes the suburban Wilmington zip code 19808 and the Delaware area code 302, his apartment building Pierson Towers has as its motto "A Place to Be Somebody" - the city motto for Wilmington, Delaware state flags, Delaware license plates, and the other cities mentioned as starting up new fight clubs include New Castle, Delaware City, and Penns Grove, NJ, which are all very close to Wilmington).

I enjoyed Fight Club as a fast-paced, blackly-comic entertaining read. The film, which I have seen on numerous ocassions, is incredibly faithful to the source material (whole sections of dialogue are lifted from the page), albeit more streamlined and linear, and at times the book even reads like a treatment for the film, with its concise prose effectively satirising the bite-size slogans of large corporations. Despite all this though I don't feel the book is as significant as the film which, released in 1999, came at a point when independent cinema in American had grown stagnant with lazy Tarantino imitations and helped, along with a number of other independent films released the same year (most notably Being John Malkovich), breathe new life into American cinema. Although the film was not a success on its original cinema run (due to a studio who didn't know how to market it), its reputation on DVD grew to the cult classic it now stands as. Chuck Palahniuk is a thoughtful and witty writer but it is debatable whether he would have achieved the subsequent success he has were it not for the boost the film gave him (all susequent attempts to adapt his work for the screen have stalled at the development stage, with the exception of the box office failure Choke).

Next: Maryland

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