Sunday, February 28, 2010
No, this post is not about the television show Survivor. This post is about Survivor, an excellent book by one of my favorite writers Chuck Palahniuk. I'm on a literary quest to read all of his novels since I enjoy each one more and more. His novels have such unique content and are written in his own unique style--he impresses me more and more with what he publishes.
Survivor, in a nutshell, is about Tender Branson, a man who was raised in a death cult yet escaped before his entire community committed suicide. Tender is the last surviving member of the cult and receives a lot of media attention from it. He is set up with an agent who basically publishes anything under the sun for him and gets him on television as much as possible. He does nothing; everything is scripted and created for him. He is the face and name to this franchise.
What makes this novel REALLY interesting is that it begins with Tender on a plane, telling us that he will soon crash to the ground. He has hijacked a plane, with just him on it, and is going to fly the plane until the gas runs out. In the meantime, he tells us his story. He then begins telling us what happened from the top. The rest of the book is a flashback.
The pages of the book actually go in reverse order, so instead of starting on page one, we begin on page (for example) 312. Even chapters are in reverse. It's these kinds of little touches that makes this man a really interesting person to read.
We now need to understand Tender's cult, the Creedish, who turned him into the odd person that he is. We don't blame him; it just explains his odd tendencies throughout the book. Tender's cult believed themselves to be servants to the human race, and they were waiting from a sign from God so that they could then return to serve him (by killing themselves). Put in better words, here is the purpose to their names and jobs:
"They are extensively trained in etiquette, housecleaning, and other menial labor, after which they are baptized and sent out into the world to make a living. Every month, they are expected to send back money and a letter of confession. "Tender" is not really a name, but a title, which is given to all male children except the firstborn, who is called "Adam". Likewise, all female children are called "Biddy", including the eldest. "Tender" is meant to denote one who tends; "Biddy", one who is biddable. All but the firstborn sons and their wives are discouraged from having sex of any kind and are forbidden to marry, and the latter are expected to have sex only for procreation. All the Creedish wear highly recognizable clothing, both inside the community and out. This makes it easy to spot another member of the Church in the outside world."
Thus, Tender has difficulty with romance. He feels he does not deserve it and shies away from it. Typical to Palahniuk books, Tender constantly provides us with little tips on how to cook or clean. They are really in depth to do the best possible job to cook or clean. It is not common knowledge by far. He will discuss mixing herbs or chemicals to create a good cleaning solution or cooking sauce. He will explain the best procedures for cleaning or the best way to take the shell off of a lobster. It's interesting, yet we see why he possesses this knowledge. This quirky behavior isolates him from others.
In present time, when the novel begins, Tender is living a "normal" life ten years after the mass suicide. He is cooks and cleans for a wealthy family. The odd thing about his life is that his phone number was misprinted in a suicide hotline pamphlet. Thus, he receives tons of phone calls from suicidal people who ask him for advice. They expect someone to tell them not to do it, but Tender will tell them the opposite. He likes having the power over them (like he never had) almost like he is God. It's pretty twisted. Sometimes when he tells people to do it, they chicken out or it stuns them so much that they don't. Other times, people just need to hear what he tells him, and they do kill themselves which is more peaceful to them. They get what they want.
In one instance, Tender tells a neighbor of his to do it when he calls. Once he goes through with it, he learns that his sister, Ferility, is upset about it. He visits her brother's grave, and the two of them start to talk and see each other around. Tender starts an interest in Feritlity.
Fertility soon calls the crisis hotline, not knowing it's Tender, and Tender disguises his voice and tries to talk her out of comitting suicide. Fertility soon becomes interested in this man on the phone, and they keep talking. They even talk about Tender and says how ugly and boring he is. The man on the line (Tender) convinces her to start seeing him because that is the only way the man on the phone will meet up with her.
The strange thing about Ferility is that she has visions of the future. She seems to know EVERYTHING that is going to happen, and that makes her crazy. She has no element of surprise in her life because she always dreams what will happen. This gives her the power to show up where Tender is going to be and tell him things that are going to happen to him.
Meanwhile, Tender is essentially given a make-over and turned into a celebrity for the purpose of making money for the agent. Tender goes along with it. He doesn't really care what happens to him. The agent produces books and television shows for him. He has followers. Fertility gives him prophetic words and predictions to make live on air, and people follow him likes he's a religious leader.
It is discovered, as the FBI investigates, that there are more Creedish survivors. They are sought out because the Creedish also engaged in some illegal activities which they could be prosecuted for. The news continues to show more Creedish victims killing themselves which makes Tender more rare, thus more interesting. There ends up being two last victims, Tender and his brother Adam, who constantly follows him around.
The climax of the book comes when Tender's agent wants him to get married live during the Superbowl halftime show to promote his upcoming autobiography. Tender has been wanting to kill himself the entire time; he just has never found the opportunity. Fertility runs across Adam who wants to frame Tender for murderering his agent to bring him down. Unforuntely, Tender's agent will die anyway during the Superbowl half-time show (as she predicts) so she helps Tender stall long enough so he can escape the show. He then becomes a man on the run, escaping the so-called murder of his agent.
Tender, Adam, and Fertility escape and are on the run. They steal cars and trucks to hop around the country. Fertility soon ditches them though for unknown reasons. They are on their way to the Creedish community to see what it has become. As Adam discusses ways to uncorrupt his mind, Tender gets so mad that he crashes their car into the middle of the landfill, what the Creedish community has become.
When they crash, a figurine of Tender shoots into Adam's eye. Adam asks Tender to disfigure him with a rock so that he can be left alone when he goes to jail. Tender reluctantly agrees, and Adam says he'll tell him when to stop. Unfortunately, he never does, and Adam is killed. Fertility soon shows up, and they leave the scene.
That night, Tender finally gives in to pleasures with Fertility. She tells him in the morning that she is pregnant, and then tells him that she has to travel to Australia. Tender follows. Fertility tells him that someone is going to hijack the plane, and it ends up being him. Fertility tells him that there is a way to escape, which brings the book back to the beginning. Tender doesn't seem to find a way to escape because the book cuts off in mid sentence. We are left wondering if he lives or dies.
But, on Palahniuk's website, he has stated that he believes Tender survives. It seems more like he dies, but I guess it's all just speculation.
Overall, it had bizarre points to it, but I found it really interesting. It was pieced together in an intelligent way that was captivating--it drew me back to the text often. He created such a satirical work that it makes it interesting to see what American culture aspects he's poking fun at. Analyzing this text would be VERY fun to do.
The book asks many great questions: How do we handle traumas? Is there such a thing as fate? Why do people want to commit suicide? How do our environments effect who we turn out as? How much of the media is constructed and fake? How far will entertainment industry go for a profit? Can we overcome our pasts, no matter how traumatic or intense they were?
Palahniuk is a must-read author. He also wrote Fight Club (his most notable work), but he has others that are just as interesting as this book. Survivor was his second written book. I find this man utterly fascinating and I hope that others do too.
So what do you think of Survivor?