Megan Harlan
September 06, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The lost-soul yuppie narrator of Fight Club, this bizarre, black-humored first novel, attends fatal-disease support meetings (melanoma round tables, leukemia rap sessions) not because he’s ill, but to boost his self-esteem. Soon he falls under the sway of crazy prankster Tyler Durden, the creator of fight club, a secret network of regular guys who, on Saturday nights, enjoy brutally beating each other up (Chuck Palahniuk himself has a history of brawling). Even if the straight-to-screenplay plot feels somewhat familiar, Palahniuk proves a talented prose stylist, able to wring existential insight from often very deeply twisted material. His crackling irony skewers modern life (an airplane meal is ”a miniature do-it-yourself Chicken Cordon Bleu hobby kit”) while highlighting the unraveling of an apocalypse-obsessed mind. A-

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