For someone who took one today

The rise and fall of a media-made messiah is the subject of Palahniuk's impressive second novel (after the well-received Fight Club), a wryly mannered commentary on the excesses of pop culture that tracks the 15 minutes of fame of the lone living member of a suicide cult. Tender Branson, aged 33, has commandeered a Boeing 747, emptied of passengers, in order to tell his story to the "black box" while flying randomly until the plane runs out of gas and crashes. Branson relates in his long flashback the vicissitudes of his life: a member of the repressive Creedish Death Cult, supposedly founded by a splinter group of Millerites in 1860, he is hired out as a domestic servant who must dedicate his earnings to the cult. Despite his humble beginnings, Branson finds himself on the edge of fame and fortune when the cult members begin their suicide binge, and he keeps himself on the media radar by using the psychic dreams of his potential romantic interest, Fertility Hollis, in which the girl accurately predicts a series of strange disasters. After a brief period at the top of the freak-show heap, Branson succumbs to the excesses of his trade when his agent mysteriously dies at the Super Bowl as Branson predicts the outcome of the game at half-time, simultaneously triggering a riot and turning him into a murder suspect. Branson's spookily matter of fact account of his bizarre experiences does not excite tension until the narrative is well under way, but the novel picks up momentum during the homestretch when Branson goes on the lam with Fertility and his murderous brother Adam, and the story steamrolls toward its nightmarish climax. Palahniuk's DeLilloesque cultural witticisms and his satirical take on the culture of instant celebrity invest the narrative with a dark humor that does not quite overcome its lack of a coherent plot. Agent, Edward Hibbert.

To stand here and try and fix her life is just a big waste of time. People don't want their lives fixed. Nobody wants their problems solved. Their dramas. Their distractions. Their stories resolved. Their messes cleaned up. Because what would they have left? Just the big scary unknown.
Palahniuk's real skill however, is his ability to pack subtext into every little phrase and loop. Rattling about beneath the surface are themes of isolation, identity, free will and false security. Those loops and repetitions aren't just there for show, however -- they have something to say about the plot itself as well as the themes. Palahniuk's built a very clever maze here. Most readers will find themselves going from beginning to end and back to the beginning. Enjoy the twists. Not all of them are in the mind of the reader.

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk • VINTAGE / RANDOM HOUSE • AVAILABLE AT BLOOM

3 Comments:

  1. Pan said...
    I can't remember the last time I read a novel that taught me so much. Want to know how to clear those stubborn wine stains from your clothes? How to safely clear broken glass? How to eat lobster? Tender Branson, the hero of Chuck Palahniuk's Survivor can tell you all this and more. Home economics, social etiquette and the virtues of the work ethic are all that he knows. Why? Because Tender Branson is Creedish. In fact he is the last of the Creedish, the rest of this Christian sect having engaged in a mass suicide a la the Peoples Temple, Heaven's Gate and others in recent years. And, as the novel opens (at the last page of the last chapter), Branson is alone in a hijacked airliner running out of fuel.
    The reason that Branson is the fount of all knowledge when it comes to domestic tasks is that he is not the first born in his family. Only a Creedish first-born can marry, reproduce and stay within the Creedish community. For everybody else it is intensive study and then release into the sinful outside world for a life-time of servitude. Cleanliness is surely next to Godliness, and for the Creedish sending their sons and daughters out into the world to slave away is a form of missionary work. It also brings in a large income to the community...
    Like Fight Club, this is humour that's as black as tar. Religion, tele-evangelising, alienation, sex...No, we won't mention sex because Tender Branson, like the rest of the Creedish slaves (much sought-after by middle-class American employers), is a virgin. Of course, once it is discovered that he is the sole surviving Creedish, his worth rises incredibly. Before you know it he is swept into a voracious marketing machine which remoulds him into a commercial product worth millions.
    Fight Club wasn't a one-off, this is a hugely enjoyable romp through modern-day America that confirms Palahniuk's eye for the absurd and the skill of his writing.
    Missingthumbs said...
    The only words that that will do this this startingly amazing book justice, are the ones bound between it's front and back cover.

    America puts it's dollars and trust into an unwilling spiritual leader, Tender Branson. The last remaining survivor of the creedish cult. Led into a fake life of product endorsements, botox injections and 'Tender Branson Dashboard statues', the confused and abused former white slave worker finds himself infatuated with a psychic and dealing with severe guilt issues regarding suicide.

    Probably the most famous part of this book is how it starts:
    Tender Branson, alone in the cockpit of a passenger jet, narrating his life story to the blackbox. 'Testing, testing, one, two'. Waiting to plummet to his inevitable death.

    There are so many ideas , so much going on in this book, I just want to whet your appetite, not give too much away. Chuck Palahniuk has a unique style and if you're already a fan you'll feel right at home within the first paragraph, if you're not already a fan, get a corner, get comfy and get ready to acquaint yourself with a literary icon.
    Gigi said...
    Thanks for the information :)

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