What’s up Chuck? The fourth novel from the Fight Club creator features a cult in which the remaining member is fighting with internal struggles, along with the pressure of the outside world as he is trying to avoid suicide and chemical inhalation (sound familiar?). While there are a few similarities between Palahnuik’s critically acclaimed novel, this is the story of Tender Branson, a 33 year-old man who is just trying to get his story out to prove his innocence. He is telling his story into the ‘black box’ of a Jumbo jet, careening down onto Earth, the middle of the Outback, Australia, to be exact. Branson hijacked the airplane, had the pilot land to let off passengers, then took off again to make the pilot parachute down to safety somewhere over the Pacific. Branson had just a few hours to record his tale into the device before all four engines failed and sent him plunging to his death.
The story began with Branson in the small, secluded church community of the Creedish. The oldest son’s are betrothed to young women of the elder’s choice, while all other males in the family are sent off in missionary labor in the real world. The ‘missionaries’ work cash-only jobs, sending their paychecks back to the village, a kind of slavery in a sense. The missionaries are forbidden to have sex, marry, have kids, they are only set up with menial jobs like house cleaners, and given a small apartment. Tender was the second eldest son, by three minutes. While his twin brother took a wife, Tender was sent into the wild city to work as a house keeper. He knew how to take any kind of stain out of any kind of surface- blood out of silk pajamas, and mildew out of tile grout. His employers often phoned him to find out what was being served at upcoming dinner parties, and how to eat it, in terms of etiquette. The employers also had a daily planner book, filled out to the minute, for several weeks out. They were demanding, but Tender was good at his job and didn’t ask questions.
Eventually, at the age of 33, Tender heard of the Creedish ‘Deliverance’. All members of his family and church had committed suicide. The church was reported as child abusers and the entire slave labor program was uncovered. Tender was assigned a case-worker as part of the ‘Survivor Retention Program’ and they had weekly meetings to talk and make sure he was OK. As other members heard of the Deliverance, the faithful pupils as they were, the took their lives to be delivered into heaven. Tender knew, but was not very interested in the plan, and kept living his normal life. Soon, he met Fertility Hollis, and began a strange relationship with the clairvoyant girl. Fertility had dreams about upcoming disasters- explosions, plane crashes, fires, a chandelier falling. She took Tender to a department store to witness a fire. They watched as the racks of clothing around them burned in a fury until the sprinkler system kicked in and kept them safe, she knew they would be safe of course. A freak accident with his case-worker breathing deadly fumes led the media into finding out that Tender was the sole-survivor of the Creedish cult, or so they thought.
An agent took in Tender and transformed him into a media frenzy. There were books written, TV appearances, and even a dashboard doll made in the likeness of Tender Branson. The public image that was Tender was a overly religion icon, his books were best sellers. The agent had him taking steroids, tanning, got his teeth capped, botox injections, the works. The were always traveling to stadiums speaking to the followers. Much like the cleaning job, his schedule was forced upon him task by task to the minute.
I’ll leave the summary here, as Tender runs into trouble and finds out he’s not the actual sole survivor of the Creedish. Everything kind of blows up in his face, and as mentioned before, he ends up hijacking an airplane to get his story told, once and for all.
The book was very hard to put down, a quick read. The fun factoids and details that appeared in the Fight Club were in full-effect here as well.
How to get bloodstains out of a fur coat: cornmeal and brushing the wrong way.
How to get blood stains off of piano keys: polish them with talcum powder.
How to hide bullet holes in a living room wall: toothpaste.
These were a fun part of the book. I also enjoyed the entire count-down theme. The chapters were in reverse order, the pages counted down to end at page one. As Tender told his story, you are reading a countdown to the present part of the hijacking. This is a creative novel, and even though some of the characterization follows Palahnuik’s Fight Club, it is still an original read that puts you on the edge of your seat to find out how Tender’s fate brought him to his lonely flight.