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Book review: <i>Survivor</i> by Chuck Palahniuk

Flight 2039 has a couple of hours before it crashes into the earth. And on that flight is a man, recording his life story into the black box. Chuck Palahniuk at his finest.

The story

On Flight 2039, there is a single passenger left aboard. That passenger is Tender Branson, and he's narrating the story of his life, up to the present, into the black box while each of the engines flame out, one at a time, before he begins his terminal phase of descent towards the earth.

There's a reason Tender is here, on this flight. There's a long, complex history behind him, complete with: an obsession with death, particularly suicide; an enforced issue with kleptomania; an innate pre-programing for menial tasks; a religious cult of dubious practices; his homicidal elder brother, and of course, Fertility, the girl of his dreams with a nasty job and future visions.

And so Tender tells you his story.

That's about all I can give you without revealing too much plot.

The style

I loved Survivor. I think I loved it because it had a Fight Club feel to it with the frenetic pacing, the protagonist's lack of control, and the complex characterisation, but because this is a third not a first novel it was more polished, more sophisticated, and more... Palahniuk. It really is quintessential Palahniuk and I liked it far more than the novel Choke, even though Choke was later. I was hooked from the first page and I finished it in a couple of hours reading time because I was just so into the story. Yay! A really great book!

As is probably clear from the above description, Survivor is written in the first person, from the point of view of Tender Branson - house cleaner, cult survivor, death obsessed, fat badly dressed and haircutted screw-up. The narration is Palahniuk's signature minimalist style with obligatory clever word play and spiraling repetition of concepts while slowly revealing more and more story. The narrator is honest, and incredibly three dimensional. He is also likable in a strange way, which was the opposite of the main character in Choke. The peripheral characters are also excellently done, but certainly don't overshadow the protagonist... this is his party, his story, his narration into the black box and the reader certainly doesn't forget that.

Furthermore, the twists within the plot are really well done. While some of them are little things, they are so effortlessly entwined into the story that it leaves the reader marveling at Palahniuk's ability. I hadn't read anything about the novel really, and I loved the way it unfolded, with the twists and turns. That's why I left the plot description to a bare minimum... you should read it fresh without any knowledge of what lies ahead.

Finally, it has deep social implications in the manner of many of Palahniuk's books, and I really enjoyed this too. They resound throughout the text without getting preachy, but I don't want to say any more about it. Look, just read the damn thing already!

Who is this book for?

A must for Palahniuk fans and non-fans alike... it's easy to read, it can be as deep or shallow as you want it to be, it's fun, well written, nasty... and contrary to the title and cover, would certainly be suitable for aeroplane reading. Take it on a holiday or something.

If you like this book, you would also like...

I would recommend Diary first and foremost, also by Chuck Palahniuk, and probably some of his others as well. Although not so much Choke, but that's just my personal preference.

In short

Title: Survivor
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: Anchor; 1st Anchor Books ed edition
ISBN: 0385498721
Year published: 2000
Pages: 304
Genre(s): thriller, Contemporary literature

This book has also been reviewed by Griff. You can see his review here.

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I was really surprised that you felt that choke was inferrior to survivor. I actually felt that choke was a better novel, as it kept me in the dark about where the book was going. With choke, the book was unpredictable.. and I like that, whereas with survivor, i could kind of guess where the book was going (although that was also a great feature about it in a way). I guess with chuck, i just expect that there would be some kind of twist or surprise near the end.. and i was disapointed at the fact that the ending was going to be exactly what i thought it was going to be. Still a great novel, very funny, and sick in a strange way that keeps you from putting it down..

If you do some really really hardcore word-dissection in Survivor, you'll find the ending was not at all what you thought it was.

Its interesting how quickly people forget that Fertility is omniscent.

"I cant believe he died in the end omg i totally expected that."

Truth be told, you didnt read enough. And even though our minds make us to think that fertility was wrong in her final prediction, the story tells you otherwise

I loved the book (although it's not my favorite), and Chuck's style and sarcastic, dark humor. But when I got the end, I was torn as to what actually happened. I thought it was ambiguous. One of those endings that lets you apply whichever scenario you think fits.
I thought this because Branson says something along the lines of "I could tell my whole life story and just walk away from it." Then he says something about the sky being blue- symbolic of a new beginning. So I thought maybe he lived.
On the other hand, he's saying he's stupid, can't figure out Fertility's riddle, and is cut off in mid-speech, so I thought he died. But that option is really too boring, predictable, and cliche for Chuck.

While searching for others opinions, I ran across this from his website I don't know the validity of it, but I COMPLETELY missed this thread. Probably because of the textual ease and quick pace of Chuck's writing. I guess I just read it too quickly and didn't pick it up. Did anyone else catch this?

The end of Survivor isn't nearly so complicated. It's noted on page 7(8?) that a pile of valuable offerings has been left in the front of the passenger cabin. This pile includes a cassette recorder. Even before our hero starts to dictate his story -- during the few minutes he's supposed to be taking a piss -- he's actually in the bathroom dictating the last chapter into the cassette recorder. It's just ranting, nothing important plot-wise, and it can be interrupted at any point by the destruction of the plane. The minute the fourth engine flames out, he starts the cassette talking, then bails out, into Fertility's waiting arms (she's omniscient, you know). The rest of the book is just one machine whining and bitching to another machine. The crash will destroy the smaller recorder, but the surviving black box will make it appear that Tender is dead.
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