Review: Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk

When my work book club met to discuss Empire Falls (which, oops, I never reviewed), one of our members expressed her dissatisfaction with the low level of sexiness in any of the books we have read so far, and her intention to choose for us something sexy like Anais Nin for the next book club book. Instead she ended up selecting three very unsexy options, of which we selected — I suspect — the least sexy option of all, Chuck Palahniuk’s Survivor.

I have discovered that I have very, very little patience with ennui in literature and film. If a character is not interested in things, it is difficult for me to be interested in that character. Survivor begins with Tender Branson preparing to crash a plane, empty except for him, into a mountain, and speaking into the recorder of the plane’s black box, to tell his life story. As the last survivor of a cult whose members mostly killed themselves, Tender became an object of frantic interest and devotion in America. The book, which counts backwards to the moment of the plane’s crash, tells his story.

Basically Tender is very ennui-ridden without even the benefit of an interesting backdrop, his cult being the most boring fictional cult ever. He has spent most of his life as a cleaner of one kind or another, a sufferer of one mental illness or another, and an occasional suicide counselor of the sort that urges people to go ahead and kill themselves. There are predictable suicidal-people jokes; predictable DSM jokes; predictable religious cult jokes; and stupendously predictable cult of celebrity jokes. Yawn. (That yawn may be my yawn, or maybe it is Tender Branson’s yawn. He is, after all, plagued by great ennui.)

By the time the book reached the point at which Tender becomes a famous religious figure and faith healer, I was already a bit sick of it. But the satirical treatment of celebrity made me roll my eyes so much I probably dislocated them. I think part of this is a function of the time I live in vs. the time the book was written: at this point, if you’re going to poke fun at fake celebrities and reality TV, it’s not enough to be like, “Celebrities! Those folks are superficial, amirite?” Twelve years on, we’ve heard that a zillion times. There has to be more to it now.

I don’t want to make it sound like I found nothing of worth in this book. There were moments and lines that I quite liked. It’s just, y’all, I don’t know. I just didn’t care for it. The jokes never landed, and I hated all the characters. I think there could be a good book written about the last surviving member of a suicide cult, but this wasn’t that book, is what I’m saying. The end was ambiguous, which meant I liked it better than I’d have liked an unambiguous ending, but although I liked the fact of the ambiguity, I didn’t like the ending itself. I thought it was silly. Boo.

Okay, guys, for September’s book club (or October’s if someone else at work book club desperately wants to choose the September book), I want to suggest three options, and I want to suggest all women, and I want to suggest some authors of color. So I am thinking Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop (for my coworker who wants a bit of sex in our book club), and then two of the following five books:

Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie
Leaving Atlanta, Tayari Jones
The Long Song, Andrea Levy or Small Island, Andrea Levy (but not both)
Glorious, Bernice McFadden

I want to read all of these books so it is hard for me to decide. Tell me in the comments which two I should suggest. Bear in mind, we’re not necessarily looking for the best book. We’re looking for a book that will yield plenty of fruitful discussion about the Issues and Themes and Structures. Everyone enjoyed Empire Falls but we didn’t have as much to discuss in that one.

They read it also:

The Octogon
ReadingĀ  Matters
Ace and Hoser
Books ‘n’ Border Collies
Kristina’s Favorites
Book Minx

Did I miss yours?