Book Discussion “Survivor Type”

Posted: October 5, 2012 in Discussions, On Books
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As promised, and on time this week, here’s the discussion for Stephen King’s Survivor Type.

Now, this story is a bit more complex than last week’s, so I’m hoping this doesn’t turn into a record length post and take half my day to do.

SPOILER ALERT: I cover the entire story in the overview and discussion, so if you would like to read this story for yourself, do so first, then read my discussion on it.

One more thing, this story is not acceptable for young readers. It has gruesome details and adult situations and subject matter. Please use discretion while reading or for sharing/re-posting.


Richard Pine (or Pinzetti, before he changed his name) begins telling his story on January 26th, by saying that he’s been on the island for two days already. He mentions that he has no shortage of matches or heroin, and neither are of any value on the island. Richard then goes into a spiel about his life. He tells us that he grew up in New York’s Little Italy. His life-long is to become a surgeon, something his father doesn’t agree with, and Richard begins playing football to get an athletic scholarship to get him into college until he could get his grades high enough to get a full academic scholarship. After completing college, Richard begins his residency. That is when he gets into illegally selling drugs. It begins simple enough, with Richard selling blank prescription pads as well as copies of actual doctors’ signatures for forgery reference. He mentions that the hospital drug room was poorly monitored, before ending the passage for the day. Richard takes inventory on what he has. Four gallons of water, a sewing kit, a first aid kit, the life boat inspection book he’s writing in, two knives, a spork, matches, and of course $350,000 worth of heroin. He has no food and is becoming increasingly hungry. The next day, Richard spies a sea-gull and throws a stone at it, wounding it, before he rushes over and breaks its neck. In the process, he manages to twist his ankle. He eats the bird raw out of desperation, and refuses to allow his stomach to vomit the only food he’s had for days. Richard then gets back into his back story, and explains how he built his practice on his own, and then began performing operations that weren’t exactly necessary. He tells us that he never did a surgery against a patient’s will, and never once had he had a patient who looked at their prescription and said “I don’t want this.” Then what Richard refers to as “the tax people” got to an associate of his named Lowenthal. The “tax people” threatened Lowenthal with five years and he gave up a dozen names, including Richard Pine. He was then watched, and confronted, at which point Richard threw a few people to the wolves, as he put it. He remarks that it was no one who didn’t deserve it, and mentions his hunger again. Starving, he kills another sea-gull on the island and eats it. He then begins hearing voices, including the man he bought the heroin from, telling him to “take a thnort” (as the man had a lisp). Richard seems to consider this, but then remarks that he’s never done drugs before, not even sleeping pills. He returns to the story of how he ended up on the island by telling us he wanted his surgeon’s license back, and some people he’d talked to said it could be done for a price. Richard had $40,000 in a safe deposit box, and decides to try to double it. He goes to an old friend from his old neighborhood named Ronnie, a loan shark, who sends Richard to Henry Li-Tsu and Solom Ngo. Henry is a drug dealer known to sometimes give people fake drugs, and Solom is a chemist who will test the product for a fee. The next day, on the island, Richard remarks that he has seen an airplane. He ran after it, trying to flag it down, and twisted his ankle in the same hole as last time. Only this time, he fractures his ankle. Richard lost his balance and hit his head, knocking him unconscious. He wakes shortly after dark and finds that he has hurt his ankle, scraped his head, probably had a concussion, and is extremely sun burnt from laying in the sun. The pain in his ankle is excruciating. The next day, he makes a “HELP” sign on the beach out of rocks. He notes that his ankle is extremely swollen and increasingly discolored. It is at this point that Richard mentions that he may have to amputate his foot. The next day he tells us that his ankle seems to only have gotten worse, and details a little of how he plans to amputate, should it become necessary. He has knives, matches for sterilizing, needles and thread for closing the wound, his shirt for a bandage, as well as the heroin for pain medication, and his own surgical skills. On Feb 4th, Richard decides he must amputate his foot. He has had no food for four days and believes that if he doesn’t act soon, he may faint mid-operation and bleed out any way. It is on this note that he tells us that he will finish his story, incase the surgery goes awry. Richard had flown to Saigon as a tourist where he met up with Henry and procured the product which he then took to Solom who tested it and found that it was high-grade. For three weeks, Richard stayed in Saigon, then booked a ride back to San Francisco on a cruise ship called the Callas. Solom had made a deal with customs agents on Richard’s behalf in order to smuggle the drugs on board. From there, the plan was to put the drugs into a waterproof container with a red dye packet attached to a timer, which would be tossed over by someone Richard was looking to pay for the job, shortly before docking. While Richard was trying to find the person for the job when the Callas sunk. During a storm, an explosion began the unfortunate events, rocking the boat from side to side. Chaos broke out, and people began running everywhere. Richard went to his room, got the bags of heroin, and went to a lifeboat. After getting it into the water, he rows, knowing that the suction from the sinking Callas could pull his lifeboat under. He fights the waves, and is eventually lost in the dark of night and the storm. The storm dumped him on the rock covered island with no vegetation. He tells us that this may be his last entry, but he believes that if he survives it, with the help of prosthetics, he could be good as new. The next day, Richard writes that he did the operation. He explains how he used heroin as a painkiller, and half way through he wanted more, but held off for fear of fainting during the surgery, at which point he would bleed out. Richard tells us that because of his skills and use of the drugs, he was able to remove his foot. Then he reminds us that he has had nothing to eat for four days, and tells us that no one will know. He will destroy the book before he leaves the island. Richard has eaten his own foot, but he does not come right out and say it. The next entry tells us that he has pain in his stump, and an extreme itch that is nearly unbearable. Richard fantasizes about ripping his bandages off and digging his fingers into his stump to quell the itch caused by the healing process. He has been “stoned” since doing the amputation and mentions that the heroin staves off his hunger somewhat. Another plane had flown by, but Richard was unable to signal it. He daydreams about food, making himself more hungry. After trying to kill another gull, and it escaping he is left deflated and low on energy. Richard continues to consume the heroin, and notes that when he gets home, he will gladly go to rehab. The next day, he amputates his other foot, due to the lack of food. He tells us that he was drooling throughout the operation, just as he had been while he stalked the sea-gull. Richard eats his foot by telling himself that it is “cold roast beef”. Having broken his watch while chasing the last sea-gull, he begins to lose track of time. It begins raining, and he creates a small shelter out of rocks. He stays inside his shelter, eating the one spider he’s found, and snorting heroin. After two or three days the rain stops and Richard crawls around the island and finds boards from his lifeboat have washed up on shore, along with some seaweed he eats. With luck, he finds a crab and eats it after cooking it over a fire. His “HELP” sign had washed away in the rain, and he spends a day fixing it. A few days later, Richard takes off his right leg at the knee, then cooks it over a fire, dreaming about roasted pork. After a few more days, he removes his left leg from the knee down. He wishes he had stayed in the old neighborhood where he grew up, and tells himself that with prosthetics and therapy, he could be as good as new. Later he finds a dead, rotten, stinky fish and eats it. He reminds himself that he “will survive”. By this time he has lost complete track of his days, and only knows that it is February. Richard contemplates how he will be able to tie off his femoral artery so high up on his thigh. He has already marked where he will cut his leg with his pencil, and cannot stop drooling. One passage is entirely Richard’s ramblings about a Big Mac from Mc Donalds. Later, he tells us that he has looked at the reflection of his face in the water and saw nothing but a skin-covered skull. He contemplates his sanity and writes that he is a freak with nothing left below his groin. Richard tells us that if we are what we eat, he hasn’t changed a bit. After having a nightmare about his father, Richard tells us that there is nothing left of him to cut off. He has already taken off his ear lobes. Richard finishes his journal entries by rambling about his hands, and telling us that they taste like “lady fingers”.

It’s reasonable to assume that Richard had been stranded on the island for over a month. In that time, he reminds the readers that a patient can withstand trauma simply through their will to survive. Richard, apparently has that will. It seems to me that he does things most people wouldn’t ever consider, simply to survive. He is overcome with his desire to survive, to the point where his sanity is absolutely questionable.

Throughout the story, he shows little remorse for what he’s done so far as selling drugs. His only regret seems to be that he has landed on the deserted island as a result. He writes openly and honestly about selling drugs, and I believe this is simply because there is a chance he may not live. The question as to why he got into the illicit business is quite simply put: money. If he never began selling drugs in the first place, it would be reasonable to assume that he would have never end up stranded on the island. For this reason, I find his lack of regret hard to understand.

The first thing Richard eats while on the island is a sea-gull. The last thing we know Richard eats while on the island is his own hand. This shows us the vast change in his circumstances while stranded. Under similar circumstances, how many people would be able to do the same? It takes serious cojones to consume one’s self when faced with starvation, yet, can you say that you would not do something drastic for a chance at survival? I wonder what others would do in the same position.

Richard mentions his poor relationship with his father, and how it impacted his life. It seems he pushed himself harder when his father scoffed him. When Richard mentions his father’s death, it is with no remorse, sadness, or grief. Yet in the end of the story, it seems his father is the only other person he can think about. Richard writes about his father similar to how an angry teenager might. Had his father not died, would they have been able to mend their relationship? I think not. It seems to me that Richard is a self-righteous sort of man, and beyond anything else, he is stubborn. It is this stubbornness that drives him to survive, and I think it stems from his poor relationship with his father. It’s likely that were it not for Richard’s father, the stranded man may not have had the will to survive so long as he did.

In the end, we don’t know that Richard dies on the island, yet it’s reasonable to assume such. We are left feeling shocked and appalled by what this man did to himself in the name of survival, though we feel that he is a stronger man than most simply because of this. At this point in the story, we assume that Richard is so far gone, mentally, and literally that he could not lead a normal life even if he was to be rescued and brought home. He would be crippled and disfigured for the rest of his life, as well as being unable to operate as a surgeon because his hand is gone. But before Richard reaches this point, he tells himself that he could return to his life as it had been, and continue his practice as a surgeon, though he would need the help of prosthetics and therapy. Is he reaching a bit though? It seems to me that between his drug use, the amputations, and his mental state it is unlikely that his life would be what he expects. Is it possible, that perhaps dying on the island is the best thing for Richard?

It’s strange, to me, that Richard pushes himself so much to live. When you think about it, he has nothing to go back to besides the slight possibility that he could get his surgical license back. At this point in his life, Richard’s parents are both dead, he has no siblings, he has no wife or girlfriend, and no children. Besides all that, he had lost his practice and had to save his own skin when it was discovered that he was peddling drugs. So why does he go through all the agony to live? This story, at its most base point is about the human will to survive. It’s about how far one man will go to return to, quite frankly, nothing back at home.

Cannibalism is a taboo subject as it is. Stephen King takes it a step farther by making the subject of cannibalism the main character, and having that main character eat himself. There are real cases of people eating human beings in order to survive, yet none are as appalling as this fictional story about a man who consumes himself when faced with starvation and death. Superstition and abhorrence surround the subject of cannibalism, making it something that is widely unacceptable in most places of the world. Yet, it still happens, in extreme circumstances and even in some tribes that remain largely unchanged by the outside world. I watched an interview with Stephen King once, where he mentioned that this is one of his least popular stories, and I believe he said that he was unable to publish it outside of the collection of short stories it calls home. Is this because of the cannibalism? I think so. As a society, we have come to the decision that it is wrong. Yet I am working on a novel titled “The Hunger” in which after unknowingly consuming human flesh, a man is consumed by the desire to eat more. He slowly changes, becoming a monster in more than one sense of the word. I have yet to figure the ending, and am only in the beginning stages of writing it. So I wonder, will my novel be unpopular due to the cannibalism? However, there is a form of cannibalism that is accepted by the public, it is that of the fictional creature, the zombie. How is that much different from a healthy human being eating another? It is simply because the zombie is known to be a monster, and we can see that it is, whereas the man who secretly eats people in the comfort of his own home is a monster we cannot see, he is the more terrifying of the two. I think this is why fictional stories of cannibalism are unpopular. I will, however, finish my novel (some day) and I’ll let you guys know if it’s hard to sell or not, though I can only assume it will be.

Please share your thoughts on this week’s book discussion. Did you like the story? How did you feel about Richard as a character? Do you think what he did to survive was acceptable? What would you have done differently in the same position?

I hope you all enjoyed this post. I apologize for any mistakes because this post was so long, I really don’t have the time to go back through and reread the whole thing to make sure it sounds alright. If you have any suggestions for next week’s discussion, please comment and share it with me. As of yet, I have no ideas, but if the book I ordered, titled Rosemary’s Baby, by author Ira Levin, comes in the mail soon, I’ll try to get it read so that I can discuss it with you faithful readers of mine, though I’m not sure how long it is, or when exactly it should get here.

  1. Mom says:

    I always read every word you write. 😉

    • Lakin Konieczny says:

      Thank you. Have you read my posts about you and my writing? I think they’re the ones to do with editing, but I know I’ve mentioned you a couple times in this blog. =]

  2. I just realized how long this post is. If you’ve read the whole thing, you deserve a medal.

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