I thought I’d take another trip into the world of Chuck Palahniuk but picking the book was not an easy task. It would have been easy to just pick up “Fight Club” since it is his most famous work but I decided to go a different direction and started “Survivor.”
The Creedish Cult became known as the Creedish Death Cult when all of its members in the central compound committed suicide. There were several members at large in society who were left behind but were committing suicide one by one. Tender Branson was thought to be the last survivor of the Creedish Death Cult left and was quickly turned into a modern day messiah by those looking to cash in on the Cult’s notoriety.
Branson is not the only person on a plane that is about to crash in the Australian outback and is recording his life’s story into the flight recorder. In the story, he tells of his leaving the Cult’s complex to become a servant, his interaction with his case worker who later killed herself, and his relationship with the only woman he ever loved, Fertility. He also tells of his rise from obscurity to celebrity and how he became addicted to the almost cult-like following he enjoyed due to his being the only surviving member of the Creedish Death Cult.
I started “Survivor” expecting a story that was centered on religion and found quickly that my expectations were wrong. While there are some religious elements in the story, religion is far from the main focus of the story. The story of Tender Branson starts with religion and it is religion that fuels his rise to fame but it is really just window dressing to the true theme of the story. “Survivor” is a story of celebrity and the illusion of celebrity that allows people to achieve fame. It is also a story of the illusion of how those who are famous have power as well. With the mention of illusion twice in as many sentences, it should be clear that this is the true focus of the novel. What is reality but what we can make others perceive it to be?
In this way, “Survivor” reminded me of “Rant” in that it is, at its heart, a story about how our lives are nothing more than what others perceive them to be. Palahniuk seems to suggest that our actions are really not that important but that the perception that others have about our actions is what shapes the world. The world in “Survivor” is very artificial from the fake flowers that Branson uses in his employer’s garden to the religion that the publicity people shape around him. Even Branson is forced to remake himself in order to fit into the perceptions of others and soon becomes an active participant in the deception by losing himself in his addiction to fame. It is not surprising that Palahniuk is taking a shot at society in this novel by suggesting that there is nothing real in the world. People are little more than sheep who are being blindly led by a select few that shape their perception of the world. Experience has been abandoned by living vicariously through a chosen few who are carefully groomed and shaped by these handlers to become famous.
I can see why Palahniuk’s writing style does not appeal to some as well as why he has many devoted fans. Palahniuk is not a technical writer and the structure of “Survivor” is far from traditional. The novel is written in an introspective style and is somewhat free-flowing as it is the final spoken memoirs of Tender Branson as he is heading toward his death. This structure can make it a little more difficult to follow the story than in a traditional novel but it also lends a certain power through atmosphere that may otherwise be missing. While this is not a great novel, I did find it interesting and it is definitely worth reading and I know that I will read more from Palahniuk in the future.