Survivor: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk (2010)
by Chuck Palahniuk
buy a copy via Amazon.
synopsis via Goodreads.
Some say that the apocalypse swiftly approacheth, but that simply ain’t so according to Chuck Palahniuk. Oh no. It’s already here, living in the head of the guy who just crossed the street in front of you, or maybe even closer than that. We saw these possibilities get played out in the author’s bloodsporting-anarchist-yuppie shocker of a first novel, Fight Club. Now, in Survivor, his second and newest, the concern is more for the origin of the malaise. Starting at chapter 47 and screaming toward ground zero, Palahniuk hurls the reader back to the beginning in a breathless search for where it all went wrong. This time out, the author’s protagonist is self-made, self-ruined mogul-messiah Tender Branson, the sole passenger of a jet moments away from slamming first into the Australian outback and then into oblivion. All that will be left, Branson assures us with a tone bordering on relief, is his life story, from its Amish-on-acid cult beginnings to its televangelist-huckster end. All of this courtesy of the plane’s flight recorder.
Speaking of little black boxes, Skinnerians would have a field day with the presenting behavior of the folks who make up Palahniuk’s world. They pretend they’re suicide hotline operators for fun. They eat lobster before it’s quite… done. They dance in morgues. The Cleavers they are not. Scary as they might be, these characters are ultimately more scared of themselves than you are, and that’s what makes them so fascinating. In the wee hours and on lonely highways, they exist in a perpetual twilight, caught between the horror of the present and the dread of the unknown. With only two novels under his belt, Chuck Palahniuk is well on his way to becoming an expert at shining a light on these shadowy creatures. –Bob Michaels
Although I knew Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, I never read the book. It is a tendency of mine not to read what I deemed as “mainstream”. Yes, me being hipster. So I picked Survivor on a recommendation just because I wanted to spend my winter vacation reading, a hobby I haven’t been able to make time for.
I enjoyed the book. I never had to plow my way through, though it was a bit slow at first and then rapidly fast towards the end. The life of Tender Branson is just too intriguing, he goes from a pitiful, ugly house cleaner, to a makeshift messiah, to an international superstar. It seemed like the entire first half was about Tender Branson’s obsession with cleaning and table manners(very interesting stuff by the way) and spray painting artificial flowers. While the second was filled with action, the story flew by too fast and progressed in the most unexpected direction and much too abruptly. Suddenly Tender is turned into a mega-star with millions of followers and book deals, taking “one-hit wonder” to a whole other level. And then, suddenly he is committing suicide on a plane. I was left with many questions regarding the twin Brandon brothers, what exactly were they aiming to do running away like that?
The reader already has a pretty clear idea of the ending from the first few pages (he is hijacked a plane that’s heading towards oblivion, what else do you think would happen?), but you can’t help bracing(or in my case, hoping and praying) yourself for a surprise. What disappointed me was that Adam had more potential in the plot, and he never did amount to much. AND…SPOILER ALERT: The protagonist has a twin brother who dies, isn’t that the best opportunity to fake your death? Perhaps I just couldn’t let go of the irony of his inevitable situation, granted his “girlfriend” had premonitions about the future anyway.
Regardless, a very delightful read. My only “complaint” is that the pace of the novel shifts abruptly from slow (albeit intriguing) to mind-blowingly fast, as if the author lost interest after writing half of the book.