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Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
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really liked it
Recommended to Alan by: Olivia; Wordstock 2017
Recommended for: Apostates and backsliders

I'm not—or wasn't—really a big Chuck Palahniuk fan, despite sharing the city in which Palahniuk has become such a hometown hero. I've watched Fight Club, for example, but never read the book—my only previous reading of Palahniuk's work, in fact, was Choke, and that was BGR (heh). I just bought this copy of Survivor on a whim for my daughter, who is a fan—but she already had a copy and left this one behind in my house. So, rather than let it languish, I picked it up.
It gets dark pretty fast.

Tender Branson is a deeply unpleasant protagonist. As Survivor begins, he's hijacked a jet plane and is planning to let it crash in the Australian outback. In the next chapter, he's telling an unsuspecting caller in distress to commit suicide—she thinks she's called a crisis hotline, from the sticker Branson placed in one of the phone booths around town. Tender has excuses—he is a survivor, one of the few who lived through his devout Creed's mass suicide—but still, all along, you're thinking "Christ, what an asshole..."

If you're like me, though, you keep reading anyway.

The chapter headings and page numbers in Survivor count down, rather than up—a clever conceit, in context, since the book starts with Tender Branson's final moments. So the quote above is from early in the book... and this one is from even earlier:
I just want some proof that death isn't the end. Even if crazed zombies grabbed me in some dark hall one night, even if they tore me apart, at least that wouldn't be the absolute end. There would be some comfort in that.

It took a long time for me (hey, I'm slow) but eventually I began to get it—to understand and even appreciate the bleak humor of Palahniuk's work. Events spiral into absurdity... and as vividly and realistically as Palahniuk portrays them, you eventually have to just give up, go with the flow, and realize that this isn't mimetic fiction after all. It's a parable, not a documentary—and a devilishly funny one at that. You just have to laugh...

This passage, for example, reminded me of Keanu Reeves' inspired junkyard rant from the film Johnny Mnemonic, if you've ever seen that obscure William Gibson adaptation:
I need moisturizer. I need to be photographed. I'm not like regular people, to survive I need to be constantly interviewed. I need to be in my natural habitat, on television. I need to run free, signing books.

Survivor isn't even twenty years old and already the world has changed considerably. Phone booths? A single-handed hijacking of a Boeing 747? These aren't parts of our world, not anymore. But Tender Branson is. He's a survivor—as are you, if you're reading this, pretty much by definition. As are we all—so far. And so even if it's impossible to continue believing in Branson's world, you can still shake your head and laugh along with Tender, and Chuck, at those funny, funny human beings—at people who are just like us.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 3, 2018 – Finished Reading
February 5, 2018 – Shelved

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