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Literature / Survivor (1999)

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Survivor is a satirical novel by Chuck Palahniuk, first published in February 1999. The book has the unique feature of its chapters and pages being numbered backwards, beginning with Chapter 47 on page 289 and ending on page 1 of Chapter 1.

Tender Branson, the last surviving member of the Creedish Church Death Cult, has commandeered a Boeing 747, emptied of passengers, in order to narrate his life story to the plane's black box before its impeding crash-course with the hard ground of Australia.

Brought up by the church's repressive ideals, he, like any fellow cult member, learned how to be a submissive servant for the human race — by hiring out as domestic help or menial laborers — and live a simple life free from human pleasures. That is until all except our protagonist committed suicide and Tender was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. As a media messiah, he ascends to the tippity top of the freak-show heap before finally, and apocalyptically, spiraling out of control.


Contains examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: Adam stands out as the singular Bob from the Creedish Church's meaningful but outlandish Aeriths. Do you really want to name your child Tender or Biddy?
  • Ambiguous Ending: The book ends mid-sentence, but without any definitive answer as to whether Tender lives or dies from the crash. However, according to the author, Tender actually survives by faking his death. An explanation on how he did it can be viewed on Chuck Palahniuk's official website.
  • Anachronic Order: The protagonist is speaking the entire story into the flight recorder of the plane he has hijacked. His narration unfolds two timelines, one is his time after being one of the few survivors of a suicide cult while the other covers his indoctrination. The disjointed narrative is highlighted by the page and chapter count of the book running backward, counting down to the point when the plane will run out of fuel.
  • Bookends: Survivor starts and ends with Tender testing the mic on the plane's black box.
  • The Fatalist: Due to her omnipresence, Fertility is practically unfazed by anything thrown at her. Even when her head is aimed point-blank by Adam's gun. The one thing that broke her out of it, however, is when she's unexpectedly pregnant with Tender's child after their less-than-a-minute sex.
  • The Ghost: Dr. Ambrose was mentioned a couple of times but never appeared at any point in the plot.
  • How We Got Here: The book starts out when our protagonist, Tender Branson, hijacked an airliner after releasing all of its passengers and monologues his life story via the airline's black box (the cockpit flight recorder). From there, the rest of the story is a huge flashback as to why the transpiring events Tender had gone through led up to that moment, only interjected by brief reminders of the airplane's engines going out.
  • Improvised Weapon: At one point, Tender wards off the angry mob of football fans with a flaming bride's bouquet and then massive flocks of doves to drive back police enforcements. note 
  • Ironic Name: Fertility who, despite her name, is sterile and cannot conceive children. This is further exemplified by her job as a surrogate mother for rich, equally-barren couples.
  • Kissing Cousins: The Creesdish Cult deliberately adverts it by pairing the Adams with Biddys as far away from their family tree as possible.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Tender offhandedly mentions the 7 younger brothers and 5 sisters he used to have besides his older twin brother. It's a staple in Creedish culture to have around 15 children per family
  • Meaningful Name: The Creedish Church gives its followers names that reflect their status and assign jobs.
    • Upon birth, every male, barring firstborns, is named Tender (a worker who tends) and every female is Biddy (as in to do one's bidding) since their sole purpose is to devote their lives in servitude towards the human race.
    • First-born sons are named Adam, after the first man in the bible, who'll inherit the land and take responsibility as the patriarch of their respective families.
    • When a Biddy marries an Adam, her name is changed to Author (associated with creation) and her main role is to give birth to as many children as possible. The previous generation of Adam and Author is renamed to elder once the marriage with the current generation is done, symbolizing how they're now the oldest and wisest in the family.
    • Even the Church's name derives from the word "creed", meaning a system of religious beliefs or faiths. The "Church Church" if you will.
    • Tender's goldfish is named Number six forty-one because it was the six hundred and forty-one goldfish he took care of.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Fertility finds all the future tragedies she witnesses in her dreams fascinating and even makes lunch dates out of upcoming ones. It's because of this trait that she didn't commit suicide in addition to becoming Conditioned to Accept Horror.
  • No Name Given: Tender's caseworker and publicity agent were never given proper names, being called "The caseworker" and "The agent" respectively, due to identity protection.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The plane's black box was noted to be orange in color by Tender in the story's beginning.
  • The Omniscient: The power to predict everything and everywhere in the world runs in Fertility's family. However, it does a number to one's psyche since all the predictions are bad, it's activated once you go to sleep and cannot be turned off. Fertility's brother and mother were Driven to Suicide after they couldn't handle their inherited power anymore.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted with the Creedish Church as all of their members are either name Tender, Adam, Biddy, Author, or Elder depending on status, followed by their surname.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Fertility prefers her nickname as opposed to her real name, Gwen, and is promptly called the former throughout the book.
  • Perpetual Frowner: According to Tender's narration, Fertility is mentioned as to have smiled exactly once.
  • Puppet King: More like Puppet Religious Figure Celebrity as Tender's career, actions and decisions are micro-managed by the agent and his team from the moment he became famous.
  • Redundant Department of Redundancy: The word "creed" means a system of religious beliefs or faiths so the Creedish Church literally translates to the Church Church.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Following Creedish tradition, Tender has a pet goldfish for companionship. Once his original fish died, he kept going for six hundred and forty more until his most recent fish aptly named Number six forty-one.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: The couple who employed Tender. For all their wealth and talks about etiquette, they are hopelessly incapable of doing the most basic of household chores. By the time Tender came back from his stint as a celebrity messiah, the house he meticulously cleaned and tidied turned into the aftermath of a drugged-up teen party. The couple even regressed from fancy, over-lavish feasts to eating everything out of the microwave.
  • Sole Survivor: Over the course of ten years, the Creedish Cult began offing themselves and dwindling its population till Tender Branson is the last one standing although it's later revealed his older twin brother, Adam, was the other unknown survivor. This, of course, attracted the media's attention who put Tender upfront in the limelight and things go downhill from there.
  • Speed Sex: Tender only lasts about a minute, maybe less, before ejaculating although he somehow ended up impregnating Fertility
  • Unusual Chapter Numbers: The book begins with Chapter 47, Page 289 and counts down to Chapter 1, Page 1.
  • The Voice: In-universe example, Tender has never seen the man and woman, until the climax, who employed him as their domestic helper and only communicates with them through a speakerphone.

Alternative Title(s): Survivor