It was to be a meeting of two millennial media icons. Susan Faludi was reading from her new book on the disappointed and disenfranchised modern American male, “Stiffed,” to a standing-room-only crowd at Powell’s, Portland, Ore.’s massive indie bookstore. In the audience was Chuck Palahniuk, whose novel on the disappointed and disenfranchised modern American male, “Fight Club,” had just opened in its film version. He and Faludi were planning to compare notes after the reading. As Palahniuk and I stood together (in a
section, as it turned out, of books on sailing, hunting and other manly pursuits), he showed me an article by Faludi in which she’d praised “Fight Club,” calling it “the male ‘Thelma and Louise.’”
When Faludi finished reading, the audience — an equal mix of men and women — seemed more concerned with critical theory than gender politics. She was quizzed on her book’s relation to Marxism and neo-Marxism, and when one man inquired
about the way her work “dovetailed” with that of critical theorist Michel
Foucault, she looked a little tired and answered honestly, “Oh, I don’t know.” She then elaborated that while people always thought there was some special link between her and Foucault, she felt she’d have to read at least one of his books before she could respond.
At least one audience member felt that Faludi’s book was more relevant to the here and now. Palahniuk said that “Stiffed” had had an immediate, almost visceral
importance in his own life. “I read it in one weekend,” he said enthusiastically, indicating
that her depiction of modern male-ienation was right on target.
Recently, the “Fight Club” author had himself become a poster child for Faludi’s argument. Her observations on the male condition — that ratings, rankings and salaries have become the main measure of success for men, that men have become just as victimized by consumerism as women, and that our society is imprisoned by the notion that victory is everything — all zinged home for Palahniuk. He was just back in Portland after attending the L.A. opening of “Fight Club,” where he was feted by stars, directors and moguls, and he had a dazed look about him. When I asked how he was dealing with all the attention, his first words were, “Well, it’s all so ephemeral and fleeting.” He’d grown up in a trailer home and he worked as a mechanic while writing his book. Suddenly, though, he had the kind of money and media attention that could make anyone forget his own name.
I joined the pair for an after-reading drink at one of Portland’s ruling-class hangouts, expecting to hear some lively discussion about the brutalization of the sensitive guy and the demoralization of the dude. After all the foreplay, though, the meeting between Faludi and Palahniuk wasn’t much of a climax. Everyone seemed too bushed to talk Big Ideas.
Still, the two were clearly simpatico. They leaned toward each other over the table and shared war stories and strategy. Faludi put forth that she was on the “book tour diet,” consisting mainly of hurried bites between flights and hotel mini-bar fare. Some discussion followed about the difference between Cliff and Luna bars — were they brother and sister? Faludi then coached Palahniuk on how best to finesse the verbal fencing on “Politically Incorrect,” on which she had just appeared and he was slated. “You’ve got to just jump in
there. Nobody stops talking,” she told him. When her review of “Fight Club” was mentioned, Faludi confessed to having written it in a state of publicity-induced sleep deprivation. “Did it make any sense?” she asked.