Tender Branson is the last surviving member of a cult famous for it’s mass suicide. He’s hijacked a plane and dismissed the passengers and crew. Now he’s recording his life story on the flight recorder before his engines blow and he and his plane crash into the ocean.
Tender’s story involves his narrow escape from the fate that befell his entire family and everyone he knew. Sold out of the cult’s compound into domestic servitude, Tender becomes obsessed with suicide, going so far as to pose as a suicide hotline and encourage others to kill themselves. After one of his callers actually goes through with it, Tender meets and befriends the man’s sister, a nasty woman with prophetic dreams.
As the remaining members of the cult kill themselves off, Tender becomes a celebrity for being the last one alive, attracting the attention of marketers and flim-flam men. As his handlers expertly craft his message for maximum efficacy, Tender’s life becomes a meaningless parade of empty cliches and phony mysticism.
If all that sounds appealing, at this point I should tell you that Palahniuk’s writing is just as empty-headed and pointless as the cultural decay he decries. Survivor reads as though it were written by a 17-year-old who has been reading a lot of anti-establishment literature and thinks he can write it too. The “insights” Palahniuk offers up through his vehicle of a narrator are shallow, trite, and uninteresting.
Palahniuk doesn’t care about his characters enough to explore their motivations or beliefs. Tender Branson’s religious faith, which is so central to the plot, is vague and tough-to-define. The other players are mere plot devices which show up and exit whenever it’s convenient to Palahniuk.
I weep for the idea that they are 17-year olds who might read Palahniuk and try to imitate his shalllow anti-corporate screeds. This isn’t the real thing, and a copy would be even worse.