Book Review: Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

chuck palahniuk's survivorBest known for the cynical and ironic dark humor that appears throughout his work, Chuck Palahniuk has been dubbed a “shock writer” by the media. His writing style, which he refers to as a minimalistic approach, has been influenced by and compared to such authors as Amy Hempel, Bret Easton Ellis, Irvine Welsh, Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Spanbauer.

Following the success of Fight Club, Palahniuk continues to shock and entertain his audience with stories so out there, so surreal, so disturbing that they can only be described as pure Palahniuk. Survivor is the perfect example of why there exists such a widely devoted and popular cult following for the controversial writer.

Chuck Palahniuk’s Survivor

Tender Branson is the last survivor of a suicide cult. After growing up in the Amish-like community of the Creedish Church, Tender, at age 17, was sent out to join society as a labour missionary, to work as a rich couple’s housekeeper. This was the destiny for most Creedish, except the first born of every family, who were to get married, spawn a dozen children of their own and carry on the tradition of becoming rich by selling off those children as slaves.

While Tender’s days revolved around a written schedule of vacuuming, gardening and scrubbing floor tiles, the church community awaited The Deliverance, an event where all church members commit suicide. Once word spread of the mass suicide, the remaining Creedish were to follow suit and join their brothers and sisters in the afterlife.

Tender Branson

When we meet Tender, 10 years after The Deliverance, he just hasn’t gotten around to doing that yet.

We first meet Tender on a plane, 39,000 feet over the Pacific, heading to Sydney, Australia. He is telling his story to the plane’s black box flight recorder. In pure Palahniuk fashion, Tender’s story starts at the end.

Before we know Tender Branson is the sole survivor of a religious cult, we know he has just hijacked a plane which he plans to crash into the Australian Outback. In the time it takes for four engines to flame out, Tender tells his side of a story that has apparently, through no fault of his own, taken a turn for the worst.

Tender reveals a life based on lies. His only reason for living has been shattered and he spends his adult years taking orders from other people because he doesn’t know how to exist. He works for a couple he never sees but only bark orders at him over a speakerphone, he sees a psychiatrist because he is on suicide watch and has been assigned one, and, once he is revealed as the sole survivor of the Creedish Church, he becomes famous because his agent tells him what to say and write.

Survivor Themes

In every person who comes into Tender’s life, Survivor explores the commercialism prevalent in today’s American society. We get a fresh look at the morals and activities of these characters through the eyes of our sheltered and innocent narrator.

Palahniuk has written an intriguing story, with non-stop twists and shocking events. It’s an easy read once you are able to get past the poor grammar and broken sentences. Palahniuk has said he uses a minimalistic approach with limited vocabulary and short sentences to mimic the way an average person telling a story would talk.

Survivor also offers the audience a different way of reading Tender’s story. It starts at Chapter 47, on page 289 and works toward page 1, Chapter 1, but leaves us wondering if it ends or begins there.

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