Dear Mr. Palahniuk,
I am reading the last page of your book, Survivor, and I am currently traveling at 32 feet per second, on course into the dusty Australian desert floor. My eyes are mashed into the back of my head as the G's overcome my body. I have reached terminal velocity. Sweat drips off my fingers onto the pages, as I hope, I pray, that Tender will live to see another day, that he will return to the real world and be happy. I hope that somehow in the next three paragraphs something will happen and it will all be OK again. I imagine looking over into the seat next to me, seeing Tender pressed back into his seat as his eyes gaze sadly at the cracked, dry, desert sands rushing up to meet him. Tender's worn-out heart is a desert of its own. Today is a beautiful day. Impact and darkness, fade to black: That's a wrap, folks.
I drop the book with a sigh, exiting your world as quickly as Tender's soul had exited it in that last moment of human drama. The book is over: Nothing to see here; move along people. But I cannot. My mind is filled with questions, maybes, what-ifs, if only this had happened. Could this character, this person whose emotions and life seemed so real to me, actually be dead? Is it crazy to mourn the death of a book character? Needless to say, your book had me caught from the very start, and my mind lingers on the messages I think you were trying to get across.
I suppose this book was so appealing to me because I could look at the world through Tender's eyes, see the changing universe from his point of view, enter into his very mind; I became Tender Branson. Tender's life and eventual rise to fame really brought a lot of questions to mind. In fact I would say I have many more questions than answers. Is money and power really that important? What really matters? Are some parts of our past better left forgotten? Your book sparked in me an interest in the human psyche, how we tick. What is it that compels us to succeed, to overcome our past and to look ahead into the optimistic future?
I suppose Tender and I are alike in the fact that we began just as unknowns in a huge, unforgiving world. If I really think about it, I'm still nothing, even though nothing in the world matters more to me than myself. Survivor made me question whether or not I really wanted to be somebody, to be in a huge, popular world where everything is blinded by flashing light bulbs and everyone fights to the death for their five minutes in the limelight. I know that in your book Tender was not cut out for this ordeal, for he was too simple, as I now believe myself to be.
The last thing that struck me about your book was its unflinching look at the inevitableness of death. It is hard for me to fathom, but yes, one day I will be dead and rotting, food for worms, my soul departed to a (hopefully) better place. We are all doomed, and there is no escaping it. No one close to me has ever died, so I have no real experience with it, but I think your book brought me a little closer to the idea of death. When Tender broke down after learning of the death of his goldfish I felt as if I had lost one of my own. And after the murder of his brother (a hauntingly wonderful scene by the way, one of your best) the emptiness I felt afterwards helped me to understand what you were trying to say.
I got the impression throughout your book that the one thing Tender really wanted was to have his name remembered, because he did not want to be forgotten like all the other Creedish, whose lives basically amounted to nothing. He wanted to leave his mark on a world so full of marks that there was no room left for his own. Whether or not he did make a mark on his world is a matter of opinion, although I can say for a fact that your book made a deep mark in my life, after viewing the world through Tender's eyes. May he rest in peace.
Robert Service High School, Anchorage, Alaska
Teacher: Mrs. Patti Irwin