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Chuck Palahniuk

Anchor Books / Random House

US Trade Paperback

ISBN 0-385-49872-1

Publication Date: 02-01-1999

289 Pages; $13.00

Date Reviewed: 09-24-02

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



General Fiction, Horror

09-20-02, 09-30-02, 10-08-02, 01-07-03, 06-12-03, 08-22-03, 10-22-03

Humor and horror are natural partners. Alas, that doesn't make it any easier to actually write a decent novel that combines the two. In 'Survivor', Chuck Palahniuk uses his soon-to-be-patented minimalist technique to nail the two to a target and fire away. 'Survivor' is a straight arrow of pitch black humor built with a series of clever linguistic loops. The subject matter may make the post plane-crashing-hijackers world more than a little queasy. But Palahniuk's prose whistles by at the speed of light. It's so easy to read, you barely notice how thought-provoking it is. He combines genres with such natural grace, you'll never suspect that the nicely-formatted literary-looking trade paperback you're holding has all the elements of a horror-thriller. Palahniuk delivers the horror and the thrills. His skill with language and his ability to break down big ideas into bite-size portions simply show horror and thrills to be important, life-enhancing emotions.

Palahniuk is clearly plugged directly into the zeitgeist. 'Survivor' predates 'Memento', plane-crashing hijackers and the now ubiquitous television show. The pages in the novel are numbered backwards. As 'Survivor' begins, Tender Branson, the sole survivor or the Creedish death cult is alone on an airliner set to crash into the Australian desert. He has a few hours to tell his story into the flight recorder, and he's one heck of a good speaker. Palahniuk's prose sometimes reads like the transcript of a glib motivational speaker, who instead of delivering the program delivers his commentary on the program. The details pile up one after another, the loops and repetitions accumulate, and gradually the reader is admitted into the mind of Tender Branson.

Branson is one of the cult members sent out into the world, meticulously trained to live a life of serving others as a housecleaner. In spite of his natural isolation, he manages to meet Fertility Hollis, a natural psychic who sees the future so clearly that life has become supremely boring for her. Palahniuk's command of the horror genre staples is so confident that the novel doesn't really read like a horror novel, even though you've got mass suicides, serial killers, and people who hang around mortuaries. Part of the reason is that his prose is very funny, and his ability to come up with cleverly orchestrated jokes is constantly surprising. When you're wondering what he can do for an encore, he manages to come up with yet another outrageous scene and a hilarious joke.

Palahniuk's real skill however, is his ability to pack subtext into every little phrase and loop. Rattling about beneath the surface are themes of isolation, identity, free will and false security. Those loops and repetitions aren't just there for show, however -- they have something to say about the plot itself as well as the themes. Palahniuk's built a very clever maze here. Most readers will find themselves going from beginning to end and back to the beginning. Enjoy the twists. Not all of them are in the mind of the reader.