Saturday, June 30, 2012

Craving a Smart but Twisted Read? (Book Review of Survivor)

   Holding my breath and sandwiched sideways between book club projects and an ever growing Goodreads list, I have rebelled and spent the last few days peeled away from the crowd. Devouring an offbeat novel all by myself, with nobody's permission and nobody's company. What has been at the center of my papery affair?

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club 

   This feels so sneaky, except that I am neither alone nor terribly original. This book was loaned to me by our very youngest book clubber, Mysti. Also, its author Chuck Palahniuk, creator of a little thing called Fight Clubcomes highly recommended by Julia. 

   Ignoring these facts, I have for a few days been pretending to be an independent, free thinking reader. My ego takes what it can get.

Most of you know Julia by now. She is my baby sister's ten-four good buddy and my west coast literary mentor. Julia is the shiz-nay. You should read my two-part interview with her here and here. She is a cool chic with a fascinating job. 
   Survivor has been a trippy read, you guys. When Mysti handed it over to me in secret at the end of a particularly crowded book club dinner, she touted it as "a little twisted," and now I see why. So the question is, does having thoroughly enjoyed this book make me a little twisted? Cast your vote in the comments, please. 


   Survivor grabbed me with the first sentence and has since then confused me, made me chuckle, made me wonder about so many social and religious themes, and inspired some fastidious house cleaning in the most literal, physical sense. (The main character is a housekeeper by trade.)

  I definitely recommend this book, though with a few caveats: Potential readers should know that a major theme of the story is suicide and that for the most part it is handled with unemotional casualness. Dark humor, certainly. The story's sexuality could be perceived as perverse by some people, too. Finally, its religious commentary is, well, not flattering to most of the Christian community. That is sometimes uncomfortable for people, so head's up gentle reader.

   The author's message is somewhere behind and betwixt all of that, though. I was able to glean from these 289 pages (listed in reverse, by the way, another strange delight) a lot of positive energy and worthwhile thinking then even laugh and pretend to be really smart for a few days. 

"Still, just dawning on him is the idea 
that now anything is possible. 
Now he wants everything...
After moments like this, 
your whole life is gravy."

   That quote is chalkboard worthy.

   Honestly, telling you what this book is about is a bit tricky. The storytelling and flavor are unconventional for sure. I know I say that a lot, but today I really mean it. The speaker jumps from present tense action to internal commentary with little warning and even less dialogue punctuation, all the while telling his own life story and keeping a myriad of story lines and character developments taut and interesting. I loved it. I may have been cringing through about a third of the pages, but I still loved it. The laughing more than made up for it.

   Palahniuk manages to wrangle so many controversial and agitating topics at once that for the first half of the book I was constantly guessing what he wanted me to care about most. Religious cultism, extreme materialism, media machinery and our new culture of attention addiction, psychobabble diagnosis obsessions (perhaps all cults unto themselves), and more. While he prompts plenty of self analysis, I gradually learned to stop forming opinions, mostly because nobody asked. That seemed to be a message unto itself: Mass movements are bad, you guys. Think for yourself but please keep your opinions to yourself. Live your own life. 

   Through one unanticipated misadventure after another, Palahniuk pokes fun at serious stuff. He makes almost sarcastic remarks on society by building his plot in ridiculous, exaggerated ways, and by inserting just enough realism to make it all believable. Then suddenly the controversial and agitating topics are so well braided together that I saw how the story would have been incomplete without any of them. And then a moment later the story has ended. Just like that. I was so frothed up by the final chapter that I had to block the remaining paragraphs with my hands, forcing myself to only read one line at a time, as slowly as possible. I was in a panic about the ending and would have been happy for the story to continue a wile longer.

   The characters of the book are as offbeat as the book itself and provide gritty, sometimes uncomfortable texture to the weird story. I found myself rooting for everybody at one time or another, only barely understanding each of them. Is this guy messing with us? Did I just fall for a big literary practical joke? Don't care. Loved it.  


  Rumor has it that Julia just might be able to get this dorky girl (yours truly) an interview with Chuck Palahniuk. I already have a million questions, but I am pretty sure he'll be rolling his eyes because I missed something big. This novel is so layered with implication that I wonder if even its creator gets all of it. It would make either a fascinating or a devastating springboard for friendly debate.

   Read Survivor. Keep track of how often you cringe or laugh out loud. And get back with me. I need to talk about this in exhaustive detail.

Be Weird and Accidentally Brilliant,
and Keep Reading!

<a href="" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img alt="Survivor" border="0" src="" /></a><a href="">Survivor</a> by <a href="">Chuck Palahniuk</a><br/>
My rating: <a href="">4 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
WOW. Proper review on my blog, The Lazy W:<br /><br /><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a><br /><br />
<a href="">View all my reviews</a>


  1. Sounds really interesting. I love "Fight Club", the movie, haven't read the book. I'm struggling through a biography of Mary Granville - a 18th century paper artist. Perhaps after this, I'll go for something completely different and read this one.

    1. I'm anxious to read more of his writing, really a departure for me. I hope you give it a try!!! Hey any chance our book is Mrs. Delany? Is it any good? I honestly do not know when you have time to read, Heather. xoxo Thanks for stopping by, I always enjoy it!

  2. I love Chuck (I can neither spell nor say his last name correctly.) One has to be in just the right mood to read him. He is so very twisted, but somehow manages to hit right in the center of very important and universal things. I envy his talent, but don't think I would want to write like him in the twistedness. It has been a long time since I have read "Survivor". Perhaps I shall have to pick it up again.

    On a side note, I heard an interview with him several years ago on NPR and he seemed like such a gentle, soft-spoken intelligent soul. I don't know what I expected - some sort of raving lunatic? - but I was fascinated by how such a quiet, calm man could write such madness.

  3. I have never read Palahniuk, though many of my fellow bookstore workers loved him. You have convinced me to try.


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