Top critical review
as alluring as it is trite and obvious
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.