Survivor, by Chuck Palahniuk (Vintage). It might be because of the recent cover feature (see yesterday’s post) but I’m utterly in love with this book cover. I have a small collection of Palahniuk (pronounced Paul-annick, not pal-an-yook, as I’ve been saying for years) novels and the covers all fascinate me – this one delights me with its daring use of bright orange, and a hint of a scream inside the illustrated dial of a telephone. It looks brilliant! I’ll maybe do a wee post on his book covers in a couple of weeks to show you what I mean.
If you’ve ever read any Palahniuk, you’ll know what I mean when I comment on his particular style of writing. That isn’t to say that all of his books are the same, or that his characters are reminiscent of each other – what I mean is, the manner in which he describes them is very similar, and their narration of the story is repetitive in the way that people in the real world are repetitive. That doesn’t mean that everyone is the same, but everyone has their own annoyingly repetitive personality traits, and Palahniuk uses these to create vivid, relatable characters (though you’d never admit to being able to relate to them).
The central character of Survivor is no exception to this loose rule of thumb – the last living member of a religious cult that committed group suicide, Tender Branson is torn between ‘delivering himself to God’ and living out a tireless, habitual existence cleaning a house owned by faceless voices that yell at him through a speakerbox.
Every last minute of my life has been preordained and I’m sick and tired of it. How this feels is I’m just another task in God’s daily planner: the Italian Renaissance penciled in for right after the Dark Ages.
He soon finds himself pursuing a life of excess when the world turns its attention on him as the sole Creedish survivor. Sexually repressed and socially stilted, he struggles to maintain any real relationship outside the one he has with his goldfish. That is, until he meets Fertility Hollis and is instantly attracted to her – but she has secrets of her own.
The thing I love about Chuck Palahniuk’s writing, and this book in particular, is the almost abrasive way in which he tells you EVERYTHING. All the awful things that pop into your head for just a second, and are instantly dispelled and forgotten about, he puts these down on the page for you to grimace at. Like I say, you’d never admit to being anything like his characters, but a fleeting part of your brain flushes with embarrassment as you read. Some might call this gratuitous, a kind of literary violence that is shocking to read, but holds little more merit than that. I disagree – it’s brave, engaging and powerful. His insights will linger in your mind for months after you finish reading, and you’ll find yourself going back to his books again and again with new questions.
We thought all this teaching was to make us smart.
What it did was make us stupid.
With all the little facts we learned, we never had the time to think.
I’ve always very much wanted to attend one of Chuck’s readings – he has a fainting record that he tries to beat with each performance. Typically he will show up to read one of his newest works, but will end up reading from Haunted instead. This is a collection of stories for which you are required to have quite a strong stomach. If you think you can take it, definitely give it a read. There are some gems in there, though it is admittedly difficult to make it to the end without taking a break and having a glass of water.