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[whitespace] All reviews by Michelle Goldberg (MG) and Christine Brenneman (CB)

book cover Survivor
By Chuck Palahniuk
Norton, 289 pages, $23.95

The messy plot of Survivor (the second book by the author of the cult novel Fight Club) is redeemed by surreally outrageous satire. As Survivor begins, our hero, Tender Branson, has hijacked a plane that he intends to crash into the Australian outback. By the end of the book, one can hardly blame him. In chapters and pages numbered backward, we follow Branson from his childhood in a death cult through a period of loneliness after the cult commits suicide and into cynical superstardom as a kind of guru/ evangelist. Palahniuk throws way too much into this brief novel, including a Kevorkianesque suicide hotline and a murderous twin brother. Nevertheless, there's real brilliance in the tension between his faux-innocent language and the wry nihilistic bleakness of his protagonist's gaudy odyssey. (MG)

book cover Driving the Heart and Other Stories
By Jason Brown
Norton, 224 pages, $17.95

Driving the Heart and Other Stories is a serious collection that hints at depressing pasts and less inspiring presents, with family dysfunction thrown in for good measure. In Jason Brown's world, people try desperately but are unable to connect with those around them. Whether he's writing about a hospital worker driving a heart to a nearby town for a transplant or a preteen girl coming home to a family tragedy, Brown infuses his stories with a sense of quiet dread. But just as this style starts to bring the reader down, Brown's dazzlingly accurate descriptions make suffering along with these confused characters more than worth it. (CB)

book cover The Ground Beneath Her Feet
By Salman Rushdie
Henry Holt, 575 pages, $27.50

In Salman Rushdie's most accessible novel ever, international celebrity, rock & roll, media voraciousness and furious love have replaced Indian politics and religion as the author's inspiration. The shift has brought some critical carping, but don't believe it, because the book is the most delectably mind-expanding thing he's ever written. Densely allusive without ever being mere pastiche, it's a science-fiction romance, a postmodern parable and far more. The book follows the epochal exploits of a pair of pop-star lovers, one modeled on Elvis and Orpheus, the other on Madonna and Eurydice. Rushdie's careening prose illuminates everything it touches, and this story's fractured myths (Fame! Image! Love!) have more potency in our Western world than those of religion and history. (MG)

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From the May 10, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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