A ‘cult’ classic
COMBINE death cults, religion, and pop culture, then mix with satire, witticism, and a knack for repetitive rhythm, and out comes Survivor (Vintage, 2003), Chuck Palahniuk’s sophomore novel, after the celebrated novel Fight Club.
The story begins with its ending, its pages numbered from last to first, in the same way that the story progresses—a countdown to doom. Palahniuk narrates Tender Branson’s story with a sharp eloquence that resonates like a ticking time bomb ready to blow the readers away.
Branson is the sole survivor of the Creedish Church, otherwise known as the Creedish Death Cult, famous for its members’ mass suicide, which they believe to be the only way to deliverance. Other members who were not part of the ritual were taught to kill themselves immediately upon hearing the news. Everybody died except for Branson, making him a drug junkie/spiritual leader/celebrity overnight, prolonging his journey toward oblivion via a plane he hijacks.
Palahniuk’s plot delivery succeeds through vivid characterization and prickly dialogue, shifting from lines of utter cynicism — “The only difference between suicide and martyrdom really is the amount of press coverage,”— to an almost prayerful contemplation: “But only man judges which gifts are good and bad. To God the smell of offal is equal to the smell of fine pork or wine.”
While most of the characters are eccentric, Adam, Branson’s brother, is undisputedly the most enigmatic character—his intentions are unclear, revealing even more the flawed nature of humans who tend to confuse beliefs from actions. This is seen when he helps Branson in his escape from the police, in spite of his attempt to kill him.
Sandwiched in Survivor’s pages are countless ideologies, like nihilism and commercialism, that are sometimes subversive but challenging to any curious mind. It touches on philosophy, psychology, the taboo, and even occultism, rendering a stark and satirical world that shadows the depths of the mind.
Although the plot is a reflection of chaos, defined in the novel as “patterns we haven’t recognized,” the novel itself is never chaotic in conveying its message, which is to break free from unreasonable doctrines.
It breaks down big concepts into bite-size pieces, filling the voracious reader with the urge to ask for more. The novel is razor-sharp, having the ability to cut through the reader’s consciousness from start to finish despite its claim that “the whole world is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Montage Vol. 11 • September 2008