I’m no stranger no Chuck Palahniuk1, and perhaps that’s why in recent years my interest in his books has waned. It takes a special sort of talent to create books that are simultaneously far out in left field and maddeningly derivative.
I received Rant as a gift (signed, even!); to be honest, I’d been wanting to take up old Chuck again to see if a couple of years off had cleansed my palette a bit. Maybe enough literary sorbet meant I could once again take pleasure in highly dysfunctional people doing eccentric-and-harmful-but-curiously-symbolic things.
The verdict? Sort of. Partially, I think, Rant is a book that Palahniuk’s been meaning to write. Some of his books are better than others—I would point to Fight Club and Choke—but this seems to be the first which was actually catered somewhat to his style of writing. Ostensibly an “oral” biography, the story is told via transcribed conversations with townsfolk, friends, and family of one Buster “Rant” Casey, deceased. The text itself is every bit as weird as Palahniuk’s prior work, but the fact that the story is told in small chunks by alternating speakers finally gives validity to his stop motion narration.
Here’s the context: Buster Casey was born to Irene and Chester Casey, under some dubious circumstances. He grew up a strange boy, addicted to animal/insect bites, and so managed to live most of his life with rabies, and gave that rabies to just about everybody. The rabies epidemic becomes a major-but-unimportant plot point that combines with another somewhat heavy-handed motif, which is that Rant is set in some sort of near-future semi-dystopia, where most people have a port in the back of their necks through which sensory experience can be transmitted; also, population/infrastructure pressures have forced people to live in shifts: the Daytimers and the Nighttimers. Palahniuk gives just a very little background to this, preferring instead, I think, to make a sweeping allegorical point (he doesn’t really succeed). A poor man’s cyberpunk.
“Rant” Casey, upon moving to the big city, proceeds to make friends among the crowd of people who engage in a new kind of Nighttimer activity, wherein you drive around and attempt to dent other players’ back fenders. There’s a complicated set of rules, and you just know Palahniuk eventually explains them all, and the subtle nuances as well.
What really bothered me was that for all the exposition and story, the book ends on a strange science-fiction twist. It certainly makes for an “Ohhhhhhhh, it all makes sense!2” moment, but it felt so far removed from the rest of the story that I felt suddenly transported into a different book entirely. All the Christ figure symbolism was blown away, replaced by a vague half-conclusion stealing bits of nonsense about reincarnation and pseudoscience; basically attempting to make a point out of philosophical potsherds. I feel as though if Palahniuk hadn’t strayed from the course so much at the end, Rant could have been one of his better books, foibles or no. As it stands, I can’t help but feel disappointed.