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Survivor Cover


Out of Print


Testing, testing. One, two, three. Testing, testing. One, two, three.

Maybe this is working. I don't know. If you can even hear me, I don't know.

But if you can hear me, listen. And if you're listening, then what you've found is the story of everything that went wrong. This is what you'd call the flight recorder of Flight 2039. The black box, people call it, even though it's orange, and on the inside is a loop of wire that's the permanent record of all that's left. What you've found is the story of what happened.

And go ahead.

You can heat this wire to white-hot, and it will still tell you the exact same story.

Testing, testing. One, two, three.

And if you're listening, you should know right off the bat the passengers are at home, safe. The passengers, they did what you'd call their deplaning in the New Hebrides Islands. Then, after it was just him and me back in the air, the pilot parachuted out over somewhere. Some kind of water. What you'd call an ocean.

I'm going to keep saying it, but it's true. I'm not a murderer.

And I'm alone up here.

The Flying Dutchman.

And if you're listening to this, you should know that I'm alone in the cockpit of Flight 2039 with a whole crowd of those little childsized bottles of mostly dead vodka and gin lined up on the place you sit at against the front windows, the instrument panel. In the cabin, the little trays of everybody's Chicken Kiev or Beef Stroganoff entrees are half eaten with the air conditioner cleaning up any leftover food smell. Magazines are still open to where people were reading. With all the seats empty, you could pretend everyone's just gone to the bathroom. Out of the plastic stereo headsets you can hear a little hum of prerecorded music.

Up here above the weather, it's just me in a Boeing 747-400 time capsule with two hundred leftover chocolate cake desserts and an upstairs piano bar which I can just walk up to on the spiral staircase and mix myself another little drink.

God forbid I should bore you with all the details, but I'm on autopilot up here until we run out of gas. Flame out, the pilot calls it. One engine at a time, each engine will flame out, he said. He wanted me to know just what to expect. Then he went on to bore me with a lot of details about jet engines, the venturi effect, increasing lift by increasing camber with the flaps, and how after all four engines flame out the plane will turn into a 450,000-pound glider. Then since the autopilot will have it trimmed out to fly in a straight line, the glider will begin what the pilot calls a controlled descent.

That kind of a descent, I tell him, would be nice for a change. You just don't know what I've been through this past year.

Under his parachute, the pilot still had on his nothing special blah-colored uniform that looked designed by an engineer. Except for this, he was really helpful. More helpful than I'd be with someone holding a pistol to my head and asking about how much fuel was left and how far would it get us. He told me how I could get the plane back up to cruising altitude after he'd parachuted out over the ocean. And he told me all about the flight recorder.

The four engines are numbered one through four, left to right.

The last part of the controlled descent will be a nosedive into the ground. This he calls the terminal phase of the descent, where you're going thirty-two feet per second straight at the ground. This he calls terminal velocity, the speed where objects of equal mass all travel at the same speed. Then he slows everything down with a lot of details about Newtonian physics and the Tower of Pisa.

He says, "Don't quote me on any of this. It's been a long time since I've been tested."

He says the APU, the Auxiliary Power Unit, will keep generating electricity right up to the moment the plane hits the ground.

You'll have air-conditioning and stereo music, he says, for as long as you can feel anything.

The last time I felt anything, I tell him, was a ways back. About a year ago.

Top priority for me is getting him off this plane so I can finally set down my gun.

I've clenched this gun so long I've lost all feeling.

What you forget when you're planning a hijack by yourself is somewhere along the line, you might need to neglect your hostages just long enough so you can use the bathroom.

Before we touched down in Port Vila, I was running all over the cabin with my gun, trying to get the passengers and crew fed. Did they need a fresh drink? Who needed a pillow? Which did they prefer, I was asking everybody, the chicken or the beef? Was that decaf or regular?

Food service is the only skill where I really excel. The problem was all this meal service and rushing around had to be one-handed, of course, since I had to keep ahold of the gun.

When we were on the ground and the passengers and crew were deplaning, I stood at the forward cabin door and said, I'm sorry. I apologize for any inconvenience. Please have a safe and enjoyable trip and thank you for flying Blah-Blah Airlines.

When it was just the pilot and me left on board, we took off again.

The pilot, just before he jumps, he tells me how when each engine fails, an alarm will announce Flame Out in Engine Number One or Three or whichever, over and over. After all the engines are gone, the only way to keep flying will be to keep the nose up. You just pull back on the steering wheel. The yoke, he calls it. To move what he calls the elevators in the tail. You'll lose speed, but keep altitude. It will look like you have a choice, speed or height, but either way you're still going to nose-dive into the ground.

That's enough, I tell him, I'm not getting what you'd call a pilot's license. I just need to use the toilet like nobody's business. I just want him out that door.

Then we slow to 175 knots. Not to bore you with the details, but we drop to under 10,000 feet and pull open the forward cabin door. Then the pilot's gone, and even before I shut the cabin door, I stand at the edge of the doorway and take a leak after him.

Nothing in my life has ever felt that good.

If Sir Isaac Newton was right, this wouldn't be a problem for the pilot on his way down.

So now I'm flying west on autopilot at mach 0.83 or 455 miles per hour, true airspeed, and at this speed and latitude the sun is stuck in one place all the time. Time is stopped. I'm flying above the clouds at a cruising altitude of 39,000 feet, over the Pacific Ocean, flying toward disaster, toward Australia, toward the end of my life story, straight line southwest until all four engines flame out.

Testing, testing. One, two, three.

One more time, you're listening to the flight recorder of Flight 2039.

And at this altitude, listen, and at this speed, with the plane empty, the pilot says there are six or maybe seven hours of fuel left.

So I'll try to make this quick.

The flight recorder will record my every word in the cockpit. And my story won't get bashed into a zillion bloody shreds and then burned with a thousand tons of burning jet. And after the plane wrecks, people will hunt down the flight recorder. And my story will survive.

Testing, testing. One, two, three.

It was just before the pilot jumped, with the cabin door pulled inside and the military ships shadowing us, with the invisible radar tracking us, in the open doorway with the engines shrieking and the air howling past, the pilot stood there in his parachute and yelled, "So why do you want to die so bad?" And I yelled back for him to be sure and listen to the tape.

"Then remember," he yelled. "You have only a few hours. And remember," he yelled, "you don't know exactly when the fuel will run out. There's always the chance you could die right in the middle of your life story."

And I yelled, So what else is new?

And, Tell me something I don't know.

And the pilot jumped. I took a leak, then I pushed the cabin door back into place. In the cockpit, I push the throttle forward and pull the yoke back until we fly high enough. All that's left to do is press the button and the autopilot takes charge. That brings us back to right here.

So if you're listening to this, the indestructible black box of Flight 2039, you can go look and see where this plane ended its terminal descent and what's left. You'll know I'm not a pilot after you see the mess and the crater. If you're listening to this, you know that I'm dead.

And I have a few hours to tell my story here.

So I figure there's maybe a chance I'll get this story right.

Testing, testing. One, two, three.

The sky is blue and righteous in every direction. The sun is total and burning and just right there in front. We're on top of the clouds, and this is a beautiful day forever.

So let's us take it from the top. Let me start at the start.

Flight 2039, here's what really happened. Take one.


Just for the record, how I feel right now is very terrific.


I've already wasted ten minutes.



What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 4 comments:

Qui, April 15, 2010 (view all comments by Qui)
a fantastic story of an awkward life!
very well written a must read!
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velveetahead, February 9, 2008 (view all comments by velveetahead)
Tender Branson is the last surviving member of the Creedish cult, but not for long as he has hijacked a plane which he intends to crash after he finishes telling his life story into the flight recorder.

The book starts and ends with Tender Branson in the hijacked plane where he has nicely served everyone their last meal, landed the plane somewhere so everyone could disembark except the pilot who jumps out with a parachute later on so that Tender can die on the plane himself. He has been telling his life story into a flight recorder the entire book because that is what Fertility, a girl he is fascinated with that can see the future, told him to do. She hates her gift, but tells him about the future so that he can use it in his messiah gig, which he becomes sick of himself and eventually leads to the hijacking.

The writing style is very similar to Palahniuk’s other books that I have read. There is a lot of repetition to make a point or to add humor, especially when Tender was made into messiah from agents and other media types. Throughout the story, there are injections of the best-selling prayer books that have his name on them, yet he never wrote. Prayers such as The Prayer to Delay Orgasm, The Prayer to Prevent Hair Loss, The Prayer to Silence Car Alarms. He has been turned into a messiah once all the other members of the Creedish cult have killed themselves in response to an apocalypse. The members they have sent out into society to make money to send back to the cult are supposed to kill themselves as soon as they hear the news of the deaths. It takes a while for them to all do it, but they finally do until Tender is the last one standing. The media hounds on this and make him famous.

That is the second half of the book, which was amusing, but not my favorite part of the book. I loved the first part where we learn how the Creedish kids try to assimilate into regular culture, but not very well since they seem to be some kind of Amish knock offs. They are experts at cleaning and organizing things. Tender is a maid, cook, butler, gardner and general servant to a rich couple that he has never met in person. They leave him a journal of daily tasks he needs to complete and only communicate through the journal and speaker phone while at work or dinner parties. He knows how to prepare any kind of food and clean anything. The repetition technique was at work during that part of the book with the various cleaning tips, which I found to be hilarious and useful. Maybe someday, I’ll run into the need to get blood or some other stain out of various clothing and upholstery, and now I know how!

The first part also has the side story about how a suicide help line phone number was misprinted in a newspaper story and gave his phone number instead. When people called, he didn’t tell them they had the wrong phone number, but would give them awful advice, like killing themselves. It is this dark, twisted humor that makes me like Chuck Palahniuk. It is also this section of the book where he mentions “suicide girls,” which apparently is where the website feature old school ’40s and ’50s pin-up-style photos of goth, punk and indie girls. He only mentions it in one sentence of the type of people who call the help line, but how it is a super popular phrase. Crazy.
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Shoshana, December 29, 2007 (view all comments by Shoshana)
I've now read everything of Palahniuk's other than Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey. I read Survivor out of sequence because I never saw a copy for sale until recently. I was pleased to read it, because it was significantly better than Haunted, but also saddened because it seemed to confirm my suspicion that Palahniuk's earlier work much fresher and better written.

Told more-or-less forward but counting back down to the opening moment (including reverse page numbering), Survivor is relatively complex and very engaging. Palahniuk engages in some low-key yet profound worldbuilding that is more characteristic of Jonathan Lethem than of Palahniuk's usual style. Palahniuk sometimes has trouble with the balance between depicting his protagonist's brutal (and brutalizing) inner narration and evoking empathy for the protagonist and his or her plight. Not so here--the protagonist is both troubling and attractive. Palahniuk might do well to aim for this blend and not, as his more recent books would lead one to believe, for the most outrageous and disgusting extremes of human behavior and experience.
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Product Details

A Novel
Palahniuk, Chuck
New York :
Psychological fiction
Suicide victims
General Fiction
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.00x5.25x.75 in. .57 lbs.

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Survivor Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
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Product details 304 pages Anchor Books - English 9780385498722 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A turbo-charged, deliciously manic satire of contemporary American life."
"Review" by , "'s sympathy for the improbable, doomed hero is fully engaged."
"Review" by , "Convoluted, maniacally comic, partaking deeply of the America that streams toward us in the dead of night from the cable channels — that place of outrageous expectation, slavish idolatry, fanatic consumerism, and mind-stopping banality."
"Review" by , "Palahniuk's DeLilloesque cultural witticisms and his satirical take on the culture of instant celebrity invest the narrative with a dark humor that does not quite overcome its lack of a coherent plot."
"Review" by , "A morbidly fascinating black fantasy."
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