– Chuck Palahniuk
It was a mercy all the “don't talk about fight club” memes spared me from being spoiled on the bulk of the book itself. That's a rare thing for something so popular.
When I was in university my usual attitude towards the feminist scholars in the professorship was... in a word, jealousy. The very existence of feminism-based gender studies meant cisgendered women had a means of discourse regarding their own gender expression which was accessible, constructive, and generally helpful. This was something that those of us on the opposite side of the gender binary, I felt, very sorely lacked. What is masculinity, exactly? The best way I could describe it at the time of first reading this book, was as a contradictory and profitless mess of anonymous social obligations. A tangled web which, despite being utterly profuse in so many things, never exactly seemed to come from anywhere. Since then I've been graced to know many transgendered women who made the brave choice to escape these dire confines, yet “masculinity” still hunted them down for this affront to its greatness, and in some arenas still threatens to. Why did it seem so self-evident, while still so impossible to understand? When it came to exploring the strangely limiting space that masculinity demanded, I only ever seemed to hear about it from less-than-helpful sources; and that core confusion is something which this book makes its subject.
Of course, the final message to be found in this book can be easily rendered unclear. The core theme of the book hinges wildly between “toxic masculinity is a sign of mental illness, which should be treated as such” and “masculinity, itself, is a toxic mental illness.” The former attitude is sensible, but the latter is like to cause just as many problems as before. Even this book still treats it as a definite problem, with no equally-definite solution. All that remains are cycles of violence, which the mass society and the individual self must share the blame in having.
Despite being drawn to it under those premises, I eventually decided to seek answers to this issue outside of the realms of fiction. I am content enough to let this be the only sample of Palahniuk's work for my liking, as I hear the rest tends to get a little too blow-hard. (Perhaps that, too, is a symptom of the problem?)