Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk Book Cover
Tender Branson—last surviving member of the so-called Creedish Death Cult—is dictating his life story into the flight recorder of Flight 2039, cruising on autopilot at 39,000 feet somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
Genre: Contemporary
Available from: | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Audible

Suicide is nothing new in literature. Many have written about it, others have done it, and a select few, Ernest Hemmingway, Sylvia Plath etc., have done both.

But what about cult suicide? That’s the main topic of Chuck Palahniuk’s celebrity satire, Survivor.

Survivor is precisely as the title suggests; One lone survivor on a trip to save his heritage, or himself, or something? Anyway, what’s important is he’s on a journey to make a statement, one that includes hijacking a plane and recording his last message on said plane’s black box. That way, even after crashing, his story will remain. Quite a radical situation if you ask me.

But before all this, he’s a janitor for a wealthy faceless family, who uses their phone number for an amateur suicide hotline – I mean why not? What’s the worst that could happen?

The joke is, we all have the same punchline.


This is a contemporary thriller, although don’t expect any real suspense until the end and don’t look for convincing plot twists. I know that makes this book sound a bit of a Snuff (see what I did there? It’s one of his books that’s both bad and means it), but bear with me.

Written from the perspective of Cult runaway, Tender Branson, we follow his journey across America; from simpleton to God-like celebrity.

Palahniuk’s usual style and tone are ever-present here, so expect his crude humour and dark overtones. One of the big problems though is a lot of his books follow the same style of writing, consequently causing all the characters to appear similar. That is the one major problem with Survivor, but one that I’m willing to bypass for now.

A Miracle of Grand Proportions

Alongside Tucker, is Fertility, a woman who’s dreams show her the future. However, she never directly reveals what will happen, but she does play them off to her own advantage. These elements add a mystical sense to the book, which blends well with Tucker’s Creedish upbringing.

Cult suicide threatens the Creedish community, wiping out all of it’s surviving members, one by one. Or is it really suicide? Is it a serial killer looking to exact some sort of revenge?

This point does become a little tiresome as the plot progresses along and is only there to add some suspense to the situation. At times it feels lazy and uninteresting, so it could have done without it.

In contrast, the so-called, ‘Superbowl miracle’ is an excellent piece of writing on Palahniuk’s part. Dark in its tone, and wildly hilarious, leading to a completely unexpected twist. It’s this moment that turns the book from rolling along at an average cruising altitude, into a full-on high-speed chase.


The overarching theme is the blatant satire of celebrity culture, especially in America.

There are reminders of Tender’s appearance; needing to look better than everybody else. If he looks like a god, then everyone will treat him accordingly.

It’s in his height of personal fame that Palahniuk shines his light on the celebrity-culture that plagues our lives. For every problem Tender faces, he has a guy to fix it. An agent, a personal trainer, a dietician, you name it.

The dilemma is, they want him to appear perfect, creating that celebrity image, and for every fix, another problem is created. Example; He has skinny proportions, so he’s given steroids. They increase his size, fixing the problem, temporarily, but causing thick black hair to grow on his back.

This is the vicious circle of wanting to be flawless. The same cycle that many put themselves through daily in the name of beauty.

The meaning of life is also discussed through Creedish law – More specifically, the need to own a pet.

It’s part of Creedish tradition that even a labour missionary had something, a cat, a dog, a fish, to care for. Just something to need you at home at night.

Chuck Palahniuk, Chapter 29

This raises an interesting point about existentialism, and the desire to feel needed by anything; even a goldfish. It will need feeding, so I need to care for it. It will need cleaning; therefore, I will have to clean it. As long as the person in question has a purpose, they have meaning in life, at least according to the Creedish ways.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re already a fan of Chuck Palahniuk or you’re looking to get into more of his work, this is a good place to start.

It’s certainly better than many of his more recent books, and it does possess his witty eye and his routine for all things transgressive.

However, if you’re of a wary disposition, then maybe this book isn’t for you. Also, avoid reading this book if flying anytime soon.

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Chuck Explains The Ending Of Survivor (Spoilers, obviously!)

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