Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Book Review: Survivor

Survivor is Chuck Palahniuk's second novel. It came out about three years after Fight Club was published, but around the time the movie adaptation came out in theaters.

It also shares many of Fight Club's style and themes. A socially marginalized narrator hero overcomes the emptiness of today's post-modern, materialistic society by becoming a humorous Nietzsche superman. The writing style uses a short, conversational format that is loaded with pop culture references and neologisms.

This time, the narrator hero is the sexually-repressed survivor of a religious cult that is part Puritan and part People's Temple. The New York media machine quickly descends on him to harvest his fame and morph him into a made-for-TV religious icon.

As his 15 minutes of fame wind down, he is approached by the sister of man he convinced to commit suicide name Fertility. She shares her deceased brother's ability to see into the future, as well as the depression that comes with knowing everything.

Fertility promises to feed him with predictions that catapult him back into the lime light. The strategy works and he becomes an enormously popular icon with his own radio and television programs, prayer books, and dashboard figurines. He even lends his name to a landfill for America's used pornography.

A shadow from his past appears and changes everything. The story ends with the protagonist in the pilot's seat of hijacked airliner that is going to crash somewhere in the Australian outback. In fact, the book is written in reverse as the main character dictates the tale of his rise and fall into the airliner's flight data recorder. Even the chapters and page numbers count backwards to the end at page 1 of chapter 1.

Although the porn landfill is interesting, my favorite part of the book is where the author describes crossing the country by hiding in 18-wheel borne sections of prefab trailer homes. That is definitely a means of covert travel that I would have never envisioned. The best phrase from Survivor comes from the narrator's agent, who states that "[t]he only difference between martyrdom and suicide is press coverage." I find that phrase disturbingly relevant today.

If you reading experience encourages you to write Chuck a letter, go with those feelings. He goes to great lengths to answer his fan mail and is know for sending odd gifts with his replies.

A friend of mine from college who first turned me on to Palahniuk was sent an autographed toilet seat and a reply written on 12 restaurant napkins.He had both pieces framed and hung them up in his dorm room. They made for an interesting conversation piece.

All in all, Survivor was an interesting break from my usual stack of history texts and journals and I would recommend to anyone with an unexpired library card or 14 bucks to burn.

Although I am going to finish that Gunther Rothenberg piece on Napoleonic warfare next, Survivor made me want to read more of Palahniuk's works. I think I will tackle Choke sometime in the near future, before the upcoming film adaptation hits theaters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Choke is a great book and a really quick read. Picked it up in Praha last year, made for an interesting conversation starter on trains.