Saturday, August 11, 2007

"Survivor" by Chuck Palahniuk

First of all...WOW!!! This book is definitely something that grabs hold of you and doesn't let go...even at the end you want more. "Survivor" is written by Chuck Palahniuk, the same author of "Fight Club" which was made into a great movie starring Ed Norton and Brad Pitt. Now as you may or may not remember "Fight Club" had a hidden message about how consumerism was destroying the world. Keeping to thatm "Survivor" has a not so hidden message about Religion, Celebrity status and again the consumerism are destroying human kind. Spoilers to be warned.

Also like "Fight Club" this book begins at the end. Even the chapters appear in reverse...more of a countdown. At the opening of this book Tender Branson the last known survivor of the Creedish religious suicide cult, and Spiritual Leader of the world, is in a 747 he hijacked and is going to crash it into the Australian Outback. Before the ultimate end of his life he leaves a permanent record (on the plane's flight recorder, the "black box") about how he got to where he is and why he is not a mass murderer.

As Tender tells his story in the final minutes before the plane crash, it is unfolded how he became a victim of what I will call Americanism. Tender is a member of the Creedish religious sect, which, as the story unfolds, is discovered to be a front for white slavery. The first born male of every family is named Adam and all the other males are named Tender. All the females are named Bitty until they are married. All of the Tenders and most of the Bittys are sold to rich families as housekeepers. All their lives as children their education consists of such lessons as etiquette, and cleaning and household chores. The cult/sect appear as though they could be Mennonites.

When the sect/cult's secret is discovered by the FBI the entire sect commits mass suicide on their farm compound in Nebraska. The survivors that were sold to slavery slowly follow suit. The government sets up a Survivor retention program in order to keep the rest from committing suicide. Tender Branson is one of these survivors and soon becomes the only one.

Once it is discovered he is the only one the story really starts to rock and reel. A marketing agent then starts controlling Tender's life turning him into a Religious Leader. Tender becomes popular because of ideas that the public thinks are his but are actually the Agent's ideas, like his autobiography, the Book of Very Common Prayer (a book of prayer that will make life easier my favorite is the prayer for getting out of traffic), and the Tender Branson Sensitive Materials Sanitary Landfill (a 20,000 acre [80 km²] repository for America's outdated porn). As his popularity grows, Tender wants to kill himself in front of the whole world; but he can't find the right time to do so. So, he puts it off for later.

Before all this Tender has set up a Suicide hotline...okay, actually he prints up a bunch of stickers for a fake suicide hotline that is his personal phone number. Everyone that calls him he simply says, "Kill Yourself." This goes on until he is visiting the tomb of one of his "victims" and he meets the "victim's" sister, Fertility Hollis. Fertility Hollis has a great gift, She knows everything, she can see the future.

Tender's popularity starts to wane; and the Agent tells him that he needs a miracle to stay famous. Fertility meet's him in a men's room in a restaurant in Spokane, Washington (because she knows). She gives him a prediction to tell on TV that the public will notice when it comes true. It does, and Tender becomes even more famous as he uses Fertility's psychic powers as his own.

But Tender still wants to escape, especially when he finds his older (by 3.5 minutes) brother Adam is still alive and killed off all the Creedish survivors and all the people in Tender's life, and is now after Tender. The police suspect Tender of the murders and when Tender's agent is found murdered, they seek to arrest him...but not before a big show at halftime of the superbowl. But Tender gives one last prediction and the entire arena goes into turmoil and Tender escapes. Only to be stuck with Adam and Fertility. This leads to a cross country escape in a very unique mode of transportation (read the book to find this one out). Ultimately Tender is aboard a plane by himself getting ready to crash in Australia.

The humor in this book is dark, but funny. Okay, disturbingly funny.

Like this conversation between Tender and his agent:

This one time, the agent asked me where I saw myself in five years. Dead, I said. I see myself dead and rotting. Or ashes, I can see myself burned to ashes. I remember I had a loaded gun in my pocket. Just the two of us were standing in the back of a crowded, dark auditorium.

'I see myself dead and in hell.'

I remember I was planning to kill myself that night. It was the night of my first big public appearance. I told the agent, I figured I'd spend my first thousand years in hell in some entry-level position, but after that I wanted to move into management. Be a real team player. Hell is going to see enormous growth in market share over the next millennium, and I wanted to ride the crest.

The agent said that sounded pretty realistic.

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