Literary Liaisons, On the Shelf

On The Shelf- Survivor

Sex. Violence. Consumerism. These are the three key components of any Chuck Palahniuk novel and this month’s entry of On The Shelf is no exception. In this iteration, we get a doomsday cult, a marketing messiah, and a woman who knows literally everything. So come with me as I dive deep into the bibliography of the man who brought you Fight Club and Choke and review one of his lesser-known works, Survivor.
This is Palahniuk’s second novel, following three years after Fight Club. In it, Tender Branson is the last known survivor of a doomsday cult and after being approached by an agent goes from an unknown house cleaner to celebrity religious figure overnight. Tender’s story is told in flashback by Tender himself into the black box recorder of a plane he has hijacked that is getting ready to crash. This framing device is used as part of the book’s structure, with the chapters and pages of the novel counting backwards until you reach page one on the final page. It’s a neat little gimmick but I don’t know that it adds all that much to the story itself.
Speaking of the story, I think the biggest flaw with this novel is that there is not enough of it. Palahniuk moves us through the phases of Tender’s life so quickly that I for one never really felt like I got the opportunity to let things percolate and explore the ideas and feelings each phase introduced. But I don’t want you to get the idea that the book’s pacing feels rushed, it’s not, I just think another fifty pages or so might have let me live in these characters lives a little more.
But maybe that forward momentum was part of the point, or maybe rather than reading this book in one sitting as I did, you should pace it out in blocks and give yourself some time to think about it in between sessions.
What I do know is this, Survivor is not Chuck Palahniuk’s best novel, but it is a damn good one. So if you like his other works I have no doubt you’ll enjoy this one. And if you don’t like his stuff, then this book isn’t going to change your mind. Personally, I think Survivor is good enough novel to earn a permanent slot On the Shelf.

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