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.
on April 12, 2004
One of the things I like most about Mr. Palahniuk is that he can write about a topic using fewer words than most authors do, and yet he can still get his point across ten times as effectively. Like in all of his other books, you will notice his... "curtness" in Survivor; and because of this, the book is a little on the short side (around 300 pages, one could read it in an afternoon). To many this is a bad thing, but it's really such an enjoyable book that length isn't of any importance. If you're interested in the sheer girth of a book rather than the quality of the materials, I'd suggest that you pick up a telephone book instead. If you're still interested: Keep reading...
Survivor is by far my favorite book by the author, and is possibly even my favorite novel, period. Some people might consider it "graphic" at times, so if you're worried about that, I'd suggest you pick up a good Chicken-Soup-For-the-Whatever book. If you're still interested: Check it out, it's a good read- and hey, if you don't like it, you can send your copy to me.
on March 31, 2004
If you are looking for a quick and superficially engaging book that makes you think you're thinking more than it actually makes you think, Survivor is the book for you. I read all 304 pages in just a few hours and its pseudo-profundity briefly made me feel like an intellectual giant. Yet, the more I reflected, the more the book struck me as choppily written, obtusely minimalist, and with a message that's trite and ironically reeks of the consumer culture it attempts to lampoon. The first half is relatively strong because, in describing the day-to-day tedium of its likeable central character, Palahniuk's prose is fully in sync with the rhythmic, compulsive thrills that lonely people create to make life momentarily bearable. Titular survivor and narrator, Tender Branson is the quintessential Palahniuk misanthrope, jittered as much by psychological hangups as the debasing consumer culture. When he's drawn out of his obsessions and embarks on a real romance wrapped in morbid sexuality and psychic foreboding, his struggle for connection feels organic and palpable. The second half however doubles over on such promise, and instead taps into the trite satire that threatens the emotional balance of the first half. Every dangerously stupid Gen X aphorism, so sparsely sprinkled throughout the first half, nascently comes into full offensive bloom, accompanying equally cliche narrative plot devices: the climactic [emotional] encounter; the murderous brother; the twisty realization of fate. Palahniuk loses his humanity and turns a story underscored with human despair into a high-octane exercise in fame-sucks banality as our hero inexplicably degenerates into a grotesque tele-evangelist. None of the satiric gags are funny because they are just that: gags- neither stemming from an emotional or intellectual place. I enjoyed reading Survivor on the basis that it's rarely boring and easy-to-swallow. I guess one could say the problem occurs in the digestion.
on March 22, 2004
If you are looking for a quick and superficially engaging book that makes you think you're thinking more than it actually makes you think, Survivor is the book for you. I read all 304 pages in just a few hours and its pseudo-profundity briefly made me feel like an intellectual giant. Yet, the more I reflected, the more the book struck me as choppily written, obtusely minimalist, and with a message that's trite and ironically reeks of the consumer culture it attempts to lampoon. The first half is relatively strong because, in describing the day-to-day tedium of its likeable central character, Palahniuk's prose is fully in sync with the rhythmic, compulsive thrills that lonely people create to make life momentarily bearable. Titular survivor and narrator, Tender Branson is the quintessential Palahniuk misanthrope, jittered as much by psychological hangups as the debasing consumer culture. When he's drawn out of his obsessions and embarks on a real romance wrapped in morbid sexuality and psychic foreboding, his struggle for connection feels organic and palpable. The second half however doubles over on such promise, and instead taps into the trite satire that threatens the emotional balance of the first half. Every dangerously stupid Gen X aphorism, so sparsely sprinkled throughout the first half, nascently comes into full offensive bloom, accompanying equally cliche narrative plot devices: the climactic sexual encounter; the murderous brother; the twisty realization of fate. Palahniuk loses his humanity and turns a story underscored with human despair into a high-octane exercise in fame-sucks banality as our hero inexplicably degenerates into a grotesque tele-evangelist. None of the satiric gags are funny because they are just that: gags- neither stemming from an emotional or intellectual place. I enjoyed reading Survivor on the basis that it's rarely boring and easy-to-swallow. I guess one could say the problem occurs in the digestion.
on March 22, 2004
Lots of novels start out from the beginning where we meet the characters and get to know them...in Survivor, this is not it. Instead it is going backwards with the life story of Tender; a former cult memeber called the Creddish Society which they comitted a Jim Jones mass suicide. So now 30,000 feet in the air and getting ready to crash into the Australian outback, he then tells his story of the famous black box (which is really orange), and so he tells his story about being saved from the cult, and how is psycharicist tells Tender to make up syomptms he does not have so she can chart his success overcoming the disorders. He then goes around his daily routine; cooking, cleaning, and he has his own suicide help line which he tells people to kill themselves because they really dont have anything to live for. So now, the suicide level has risen, and he thinks that his brother Adam is killing people he knows and making it look like a suicide. So now, Tender is then found out that he is the last survivor of the Creedish Cult, and now he is famous all over the world. Before he gets famous, he meets a woman named Feternility which she can predit tragic events before they happen. So now that Tender is famous, he then has people write his autobiography (which he didnt write), and has a huge following which they think that he is a messenger and can heal the sick, and make everyone feel better. So now, with this in hand, Fetternility then tells Tender that there is going to be a hijacking of a plane and it is going to crash; that is all she knows. So now, Tender then gets on the plane and hijacks it, but their is no one inside it so now, we then meet Tender again saying 'testing 1, 2, 1, 2...'
I felt this was a very unique novel by Mr. Palahniuk, and if you thought Fight Club was weird, boy do he has a surprise for you. I didnt expect like another Fight Club, but I expected something orginal and I got it. Good job.
on February 18, 2004
In the nearly decade since the publication of FIGHT CLUB Chuck Palahniuk has carved a name for himself in the literary world. Each of his novels are jammed-packed with media and social criticisms that often involve realistic characters in unusual circumstances. SURVIVOR, Palahniuk's second novel, includes his signature style of taking the reader on a trip that is difficult to forget. This jolting journey of the mind is what one expects when they pick up a Palahniuk book, and SURVIVOR does not fail in this aspect. The format of this book is constructed in a fashion of a big countdown: pages and chapters are numbered in reverse. The moment the ball drops is when a jumbo jet is going to crash into the Australian Outback with Tender Branson as the sole passenger. Tender has led an unconventional life. He is a surviving member of the Creedish doomsday cult. His comrades participated in a mass suicide to avoid government intervention. As the novel progresses he is recruited by a savvy agent and transformed into a major media icon that performs miracles by foretelling the future, with courtesy to his friend and co-inspirer Fertility Hollis. But the future isn't all Hollywood for Tender as there are dark secrets concerning activities by the Creedish elders during his youth that are determined to confront and destroy his assumed innocent childhood. Deep in social satire SURVIVOR is a fun and entertaining read which kept me interested until the last page. Recommended.
on January 27, 2004
As his second book, Survivor is not as good as Fight Club, or as good as some of the books that the author wrote later (Invisible Monsters is truly wonderful). But it is still a good book, and a fun, quick read.
I do agree that the ending was not what I had expected, (I won't give it away here), but it does make sense with the bigger context of who Adam is and the setup in the rest of the book.
This book has some memorable scenes, and some really funny parts, but after awhile the non-ending references to cleaning techniques got tiresome, and some of the plot jumps are almost sci-fi in nature. It isn't as believable as Fight Club or Invisible Monsters because of some of the "unusual mental power" of one of the characters, and some of improbable plot jumps.
If you're a fan of Chuck's then you would probably enjoy reading this book, and at around $10, it's more fun than a movie or watching tv. But it's not his best work. If you want to understand what his work is all about I'd recommend Fight Club or Invisible Monsters.
on January 5, 2004
Don't judge a book by its title. This is not Homer's Odyssey. The "survivor" here is not an "action figure," but the hero as passive participant, as a victim of forces he perceives as larger than himself. Readers might benefit from knowing in advance two things: (1) When this book begins, the end is alrady in sight; in the pages that follow the central character of this dark comedy, Tender Branson, explains, as best he can, how he arrived at the point where the reader begins; (2) In the pages that follow -- that is, in Branson's autobiography -- we see a "hero" whose life is the result of forces he was powerless to alter. Branson does not create; at best, he preserves. Professionally, he cleans, and the book provides countless "tips" for removing the human stain in all its varities. Yet he is no friend of the human struggle for self-preservation and is not above recommending to others the suicide he finds for himself. (He operates an ad hoc suicide hotline that always prescribes suicide).
So, why should readers bother with Branson? Tender Branson is the modern American pilgrim. He wants to live in the ideal society where life has its predictable rhythms, but recognizes that he cannot -- that the idyllic village is out of reach precisely because it cannot insulate itself from the larger world. Thrust into that world himself, he does what he knows: he works in the service of others and is finally led by them to capitalize on his childhood experience in the cult of the Creedish. That is not the path to self-realization and awareness. The pilgrim's path was, in this case, a poor education. Ultimately he strikes out on his own. By the book's end, and by definition its beginning, Branson has found his "free will," and opted to get out. A dark choice, but a choice just the same.
on December 30, 2003
Did you think Fight Club was strange? It only scratched the surface of Chuck Palahniuk's satirical psyche, only served as a warmup for this deadpan media/religion scather that concludes in an even more over-the-top fashion than Palahniuk's debut novel. That the pages and chapter numbers of Survivor count down instead of up is only the most superficial aberration.
You'll recognize some of Palahniuk's devices from Fight Club immediately -- the short paragraphs, choppy sentences, narrator dialogue not distinguished with quote marks. The all-knowing consumerism and dead-on ideological emptiness. And, of course, the beginning that reveals the ending and spends the rest of the book arriving at that point through flashbacks.
As Survivor opens, our protagonist, Tender Branson, is waiting for the 747 he's on to nosedive into Australia. The passengers were let off some time ago, and the pilot parachuted out shortly after. Now it's just Branson and the black-box flight recorder, into which he is dictating the story of his life.
Our narrator possesses an insane prescience of home remedies. He pretty much has to; his work assignment is to baby sit a wealthy couple who doesn't know the cocktail fork from the grapefruit spoon. Who require explicit instructions on how to consume the catered food at dinner parties they've been invited to and not make fools of themselves.
Everyone in Branson's cult had work assignments. The Creedish church he grew up in was a compound not unlike the Branch Davidians or Heaven's Gate, and in predictable fashion, almost all committed mass suicide at the first sign of FBI invasion. The remaining members, it seems, are committing suicide (or are they?) one by one, and all Branson has is his equally disturbed therapist and crammed daily planner to keep him going.
That, and he's set up flyers all over town bearing his phone number, inviting the suicidal and desperate to give him a call. Those who call are encouraged to go ahead and kill themselves, and Branson visits the graves of those who do. It gives him some odd comfort, and it's how he meets Fertility Hollis -- this book's Marla Singer -- whose brother killed himself after having disturbing dreams of the future. Dreams she's also started having.
As you might have guessed just from the plot details, Survivor is actually more messed up than Fight Club, and the strangeness only compounds as the book goes. As the atmosphere continually changes, so do Palahniuk's possibilities for satire -- by the last third, it's almost entirely a dissertation on fame and the media. Disturbing, yes; satisfying, almost, but Survivor is definitely worthwhile reading for anyone who stomached and appreciated Fight Club. Two other quick Amazon picks: odd little novels I enjoyed -- WILL@epicqwest.com by Tom Grimes, The Losers' Club by Richard Perez
on December 22, 2003
This book, it's called SURVIVOR, demonstrates that it's hip to be stupid. It's written as bad as this lousy Amazon review and stuff. Yeah, Tarzan's fans are a lot like the cultists that follow Tender Branson in this book. They all wear their official Tarzan T-shirts ("You're not special!") and love the simplicity and stupidity of the author's psuedo-sentences, all jacked-up Tarzan-style. And, boy, do they love Brad Pitt!
You will learn in this book how to eat a lobster. Never mind that this passage was taken word-for-word from a book on eating etiquette. Never mind that this book, it's called SURVIVOR, it's about manners and stuff, all special and cool, is completely unmannered and barbaric. Never mind that the lobster-eating passage is completely unrelated to the subject matter of the book. What's really important is that people will think that you are F----ING COOL if you carry this book around with you! You don't even have to read it! Didn't somebody, I think it was someone called "Gertrude Stein," say that the best thing about reading books is to show other people what you're reading and stuff? Yeah, even though you know Tarzan is a bad writer, you can always pretend that he's a good one. Because if you don't, people will think that you're uncool. Or that you have a mind of your own. Or both. And stuff.
SURVIVOR is an Insta-Book. It could have been produced at random by a computer. Somebody, I think his name was "John Barth" or something, once wrote a book about that. Or something.
Oh, yeah. There's also the weakest kidnapping narrative in the history of literature. You won't be gripped. But who cares? The book is EDGY, dude!
Meanwhile, Tarzan looks on the Internet for information on some guy called "Plato" and Tarzan's editor corrects his spelling mistakes.