2020 Alphabet Soup Author Edition – Survivor – Chuck Palahniuk

Genre: Satirical, anti-heroes

Narrative Style: Stream of consciousness, First person

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1999

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: We meet Tender Branson as he has just hijacked a plane and is telling the sorry tale of his life to the black box recorder. He has let the crew and passengers go and has the length of time it takes for the fuel to run out to tell us of his life. What follows is a tragic tale of manipulation, fame, murder and suicide.

Reading Challenges: 2020 Alphabet Soup – Author Edition

This is a very strange book. I had some idea what to expect – I’ve read Fight Club and Choke – but even so this is an odd read. For a start, it is numbered backwards and the chapters run down to one which makes it difficult to judge exactly where you are in the book. It also gives the feeling of running to a huge event which is apt given that we are waiting for the plane that Tender has hijacked to run out of fuel and crash.

We are thrown into the middle of Tender’s story with little context and at first it is a little confusing. Tender works as a servant and we gather that this is the fate of the majority of young people in the Creedish cult. They are sold as servants. allowed out into the outside world only because they’ve been convinced to never have sex by means not explained until near the end.

It transpires that Tender is a survivor of the mass suicide that has killed the rest of the cult. Even those who are already out in the world have been trained to obey this call to heaven so eventually Tender is the only one left. At this point, he comes to the attention of The Agent and is thrust into the limelight – once they have made him camera ready, of course.

Palahniuk takes aim at the media industry as they completely take over Tender’s life, treating him like a product rather than a person. He is consistently manipulated throughout the novel – first by the Creedish church and then by The Agent who has already planned out his entire life before he  even meets Tender. He was just waiting for the right body to put before the cameras.  The take down is savage and I felt a huge amount of sympathy for Tender especially when he is eventually rescued by his twin brother, Adam and his friend Fertility Hollis. Stripped bare of all routines, not being told what to do, he is unable to cope. He has been told what to do his whole life. Even when it comes  to hijacking the plane, Fertility has to push him in the right direction.

This was a very enjoyable read. It is easy to get used to the stream of consciousness style and the characters were well-drawn and interesting. The ending is open-ended so it is possible to believe in a happy ending should you want to. It is darkly funny in places, as you might expect from the writer of Fight Club but ultimately I felt a lot of sadness when reading it.