Survivor

by Chuck Palahniuk

Every breath is a choice.
Every minute is a choice.
To be or not to be.
Every time you don’t throw yourself down the stairs, that’s a choice. Every time you don’t crash your car, you reenlist.

In his 30’s Tender Brandon is one of the last known survivors of a religious cult that terminated in mass suicide a decade earlier. The number of members who lived through the ordeal is dwindling due to a deeply ingrained sense that members need to kill themselves when the timing is right, and someone may be stalking the remaining few to speed things along. The books opens with Tender alone on a commercial aircraft, explaining his life story to the black box before the plane runs out of fuel and nosedives.

We learn Tender was a born and bred slave to menial labor and sent out into the world, as are most his brothers and sisters, as a nearly unpaid expert in things like gardening, cleaning and cooking. While balancing his life of labor and meetings with his social worker Tender meets the girl, Fertility, who sees the future and meddles with his life. When the media learns the number of survivors is narrowing to just him they turn everything into a ticket selling feeding frenzy.

The story is irreverent and contemptuous, a vicious social satire framed with religion, and everything is crackpot. Shots are taken at numerous aspects of the modern consumerist lifestyle and none of them are off the mark. This perspective on modern life was already laser-sighted and brutalized with his first novel, Fight Club, but that doesn’t make anything here less true. It’s about a modern human organism so socially dumbed down, so beholden to celebrity lifestyles and reality television that the last thing we want to do is make our own decisions when others can make them for us. Our lives have been taken over to the extent we’re not really alive, we’re just inevitable statistics on actuarial tables waiting to be realized, moved from the red column to the black. Marketing taking priority over substance is the key to Survivor.

Fantastic social commentary resides within these pages but keeping it from the top echelons is its uneven transitions between the sometimes sly but usually biting implications of modern society and occasional stale passages of exposition—it just bogs down a little here and there. But when it on, it’s on.

Survivor
is a well-recommended read that you probably won’t want to have missed it when it’s all said and done. Fight Club is a similar but superior novel so go for that one first, and if you like it chances are you will this one as well.

“You can tell people the truth, but they’ll never believe you until the event. Until it’s too late. In the meantime, the truth will just piss them off and get you in a lot of trouble.”

3+ stars

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