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Palahniuk's BEST book!
on June 5, 2005
I've read both Choke and Fight Club, in that order, and I have to say, Survivor beats them both outright. You don't read this book, you hop on and ride the madness until you get off, either satisfied or nauseous, depending on your personality.
This book lets you know the protagonist is doomed from the very beginning. It opens from Flight 2039, about to crash in the Australian outback, with only one person remaining aboard: Tender Branson. He tells his story to the black box on board with him, and to us, as the chapter numbers count down. Tender is a survivor of the Creedish "death cult", who were supposedly religious fanatics who sold their children for labor, and then committed mass suicide when the authorities came to intervene. We weave through his life, seventeen to late thirties. It begins with him working as cleaning houses of the wealthy, keeping quiet about disturbing secrets of his employers. He steals fake flowers from graveyards, runs a help hotline telling everyone calling to kill themselves, and is visited by a social worker. He ends up a media superstar with a body that's half surgically enhanced, blurred by hundreds of combinations of drugs. And that's the mild stuff.
Chuck Palahniuk fills his books with frightening, little known trivia about the real world. How to get blood stains out of fur, how to scam Ronald McDonald Houses, how to get drugs from veterinarians. He then surrounds these facts with his fiction, making the story seem more real and more disturbing.
Survivor is completely unpredictable, unique, and darkly hilarious. I'll say this right now: I think it's brilliant. The insights and food for thought it provides make me laugh aloud and chill me. Palahniuk comments on society, he mocks society, without preaching once. The characters do things you dream to do in your darkest or most honest moments, but wouldn't dare. The storyline shocks you, takes twists and turns you'd never guess and I couldn't reveal here.
A typical paragraph of Survivor goes like this:
This isn't the most marketable job skill, but to get bloodstains out of wallpaper, put on a paste of cornstarch and cold water. This will work just as well to get blood out of a mattress or a davenport. The trick is to forget how fast these things can happen. Suicides. Accidents. Crimes of passion.
Just concentrate on the stain until your memory is completely erased. Practice really does make perfect. If you could call it that.
A downside is that Chuck Palahniuk uses a lot of repetition to make points, and while usually pulls it off excellently, occasionally it can get irritating or dull. It also doesn't have too much rereading value - after once or twice the thrill dulls and you don't feel like reading it again. Also, it is not for the faint at heart. It is fairly graphic and has the ability to shred most optimism. Some people have complained about how ambiguous the ending was, but I think that if he'd given it a solid ending the effect would have been weaker.
Okay. Enough. I loved it. Go find a copy and start reading it. If you liked his other work, you will definitely enjoy Survivor. Another recent Amazon pick I really enjoyed is The Losers Club: Complete Restored Edition by Richard Perez -- a totally obscure, totally great book that I can't stop thinking about. Highly recommended.