Though the old adage goes “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” I like to maintain that a good cover doesn’t hurt. There are some books that just leap off the shelf. “Survivor” by Chuck Palahnuik with its construction orange cover is one of them. Mix the alarming hue with dotted white lines that show where creases are made in making a paper airplane and embossed letters in the same blinding orange and you have one brilliant and unique cover. And adages be damned, because brilliant and unique are also the adjectives I would use to describe the contents of this novel.
The details of the plot are best left to be discovered while reading through the book (even the description on the back gives away too much in my opinion) but at its most general the novel is Tender Branson’s narration of his life story into a black box on a crashing airplane. As the strange dictation circumstances might imply, Tender’s life has been anything but normal. The whole book is a surreal parody of religion and pop culture.
As funny as much of the novel is, Palanuik doesn’t hold back on sobering truths. When the pilot of the airplane is explaining to Tender how to use the black box and when the plane will crash he says to Tender:
“‘You don’t know when the fuel will run out. There’s always the chance you could die right in the middle of your life story.’
And I yelled, So what else is new?”
Palahniuk also makes very good use of both direct and clever symbols and parallels to get his point across. One of the more unique techniques he applies is a backwards page count starting with page 289 and ending with page 1 giving the sense of a countdown. Style aside, the plot is engaging and the details never cease to be interesting. However, the disturbing zaniness that gives this book its spark and makes it one of my favorite books I’ve read all year, will just as easily alienate people comfortable with books that tell more traditional stories.
“Survivor” by Chuck Palahnuik is an odd book. It’s crude, uncomfortably dark and populated with mostly morally vapid characters. Yet at the same time it’s meaningful, funny and the characters are, in their own way, endearing. Whether you can reconcile these disparate parts and enjoy the book largely depends on your own degree of oddness.