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rant by palahniuk

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk

• Hardcover: 320 pages

• Publisher: Doubleday, 2007

• ISBN: 0385517874

• Genre: Science Fiction, Transgressive Fiction

• Recommended For: Not everybody. See my post which discusses Palahniuk’s transgressive writing style.

Quick Review: If you’re a Palahniuk fan, I recommend that you check out Rant. I don’t usually do ratings in my reviews, but if I did, I would give it 4 out of 5 spider bites. Or 4 out of 5 car crashes. Or 4 out of 5 maxi pads.

How I Got Here: I was first introduced to Chuck Palahniuk almost ten years ago, when I read Lullaby, and was impressed by his literary style and shocking plot. Since then, I have read only a few more novels, although I have almost the entire Palahniuk collection on my shelf. My husband read Rant in late December, and urged me to read it after him.

The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis

“Like most people I didn’t meet Rant Casey until after he was dead. That’s how it works for most celebrities: After they croak, their circle of friends just explodes.…”

Rant is the mind-bending new novel from Chuck Palahniuk, the literary provocateur responsible for such books as the generation-defining classic Fight Club and the pedal-to-the-metal horrorfest Haunted. It takes the form of an oral history of one Buster “Rant” Casey, who may or may not be the most efficient serial killer of our time.

“What ‘Typhoid Mary’ Mallon was to typhoid, what Gaetan Dugas was to AIDS, and Liu Jian-lun was to SARS, Buster Casey would become for rabies.”

A high school rebel who always wins (and a childhood murderer?), Rant Casey escapes from his small hometown of Middleton for the big city. He becomes the leader of an urban demolition derby called Party Crashing. On appointed nights participants recognize one another by such designated car markings as “Just Married” toothpaste graffiti and then stalk and crash into each other. Rant Casey will die a spectacular highway death, after which his friends gather testimony needed to build an oral history of his short, violent life. Their collected anecdotes explore the possibility that his saliva caused a silent urban plague of rabies and that he found a way to escape the prison house of linear time.…

“The future you have, tomorrow, won’t be the same future you had, yesterday.”

—Rant Casey

Expect hilarity, horror, and blazing insight into the desperate and surreal contemporary human condition as only Chuck Palahniuk can deliver it. He’s the postmillennial Jonathan Swift, the visionary to watch to learn what’s —uh-oh—coming next.

My Analysis and Critique:

It is very difficult to write a review on a Palahniuk novel for readers who aren’t familiar with his style. For that reason, I have written a corresponding profile on Palahniuk’s literary style, and if you haven’t read any Palahniuk, I recommend that you start there.

Rant is a typical Palahniuk novel as it uses completely atypical narrative techniques and characters. In Palahniuk fashion, I will stray from the norm in this review, and like in Rant, I will provide my information in snippets:

Palahniuk Staples, and How They Are Used in Rant:

– Characters find meaning via seemingly useless actions and events:

Rant and his friends engage in rather violent actions to understand themselves and the world around them. These include intentionally getting bitten by wild animals and poisonous snakes and spiders, as well as crashing their cars into each other for fun.

-Non-traditional narrative structure:

Palahniuk utilizes an oral history style of narrative as numerous characters discuss the deceased Rant Casey in a series of interview snippets. This style calls to question the trustworthiness of the details provided on Rant’s life, as there are so many perspectives.

-Recurrence of motifs and themes:

Here are some tags connected to Rant: animal/spider bites, poison, saliva, smell, honesty, taste, traffic, authentic experience, rubbernecking, grotesque, anthropology, motive, history, counterculture, mediocrity, sex, exploitation, time travel, and addiction.

– Excessive and seemingly meaningless details that all tie in nicely by story’s end to tell the true story (there is a purpose in the plot for all the “gross elements”!):

There is so much embedded meaning in Palahniuk’s writing. Everything matters in Rant. There isn’t a wasted word. You read his lines, notice the connectivity between each plot element, and you almost start to consider that the writers of Lost were lazy.

– In media res and “the hidden gun”

Palahniuk begins the novel somewhere in the middle, as readers immediately know that Rant is dead and is responsible for the mass spread of rabies. From there, his story is told via characters telling their version of his life story.

As with most of Palahniuk’s books, there is the “hidden gun” (Palahniuk-coined term), as there is always a major plot twist at the end that calls everything you thought you knew into question and ties together all the seemingly unimportant details. This is one of my favorite parts of reading Palahniuk.

-Satire:

Palahniuk, as always, has a lot to say about our society, and does so in his very unique way. Some of his commentary is very subtle, while other statements are rather bold. Two aspects of society that Palahniuk goes deep in discussing in Rant are society’s need to rubberneck when driving past an accident, and society’s dependence upon manufactured experience, as opposed to authentic lived experience.

A New Step in Rant

-Science Fiction: Rant is very much a science fiction novel, very similar to Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan (that could be a spoiler if you’re familiar with Vonnegut’s amazing novel). It’s also a dystopian novel. I can’t say more than that because it would ruin the “hidden gun” effect.

Overall

I really enjoyed my Palahniuk experience with Rant. It wasn’t my favorite novel by Palahniuk, as I didn’t feel that its resolution was as clean as my previous readings of Palahniuk. However, I truly read Palahniuk for his satire, and this novel provided all that I desired in typical Palahniuk (that almost feels like an oxymoron) fashion. If you’re a Palahniuk fan, I recommend that you check out Rant. If I did ratings in my reviews, I would give it 4 out of 5 spider bites. Or 4 out of 5 car crashes. Or 4 out of 5 maxi pads.

Links:

The Cult: The Official Chuck Palahniuk site (fansite really)

Goodreads Reviews


chuck palahniuk

Image Credit: ChuckPalahniuk.net

Transvestites. Dildos. Used condoms and dried up maxi pads caught in a chain link fence. Creative masturbation techniques.

If these words and images are a bit too much for you, then you probably wouldn’t like Chuck Palahniuk’s fiction. Which is unfortunate, as they have very little to do with Palahniuk’s work. But, they are there, used as tools in his absurdist, transgressive satires. And what Palahniuk has to say is worthwhile to all. Yet, most don’t get it because they can’t handle transgressive fiction.

Transgressive fiction is a literary genre that deals with typically taboo subjects, such as sex, drugs, violence, and crime. It is based on the notion that “knowledge is to be found at the edge of experience and that the body is the site for gaining knowledge,” (Soukhanov). Truly, Palahniuk’s novels provide much knowledge gained through his exploration of gross, taboo subjects.

In most of Palahniuk’s works, his characters are empty, seeking meaning and vitality in their seemingly useless lives. They go to extremes to better themselves and the society around them, to wake up and feel alive. Via the character’s journey, readers are often exposed to gritty social commentary and truths that we ignore or even bury in our everyday lives. Palahniuk forces us to examine who we are and what it’s all about.

Palahniuk is not the first transgressive author, nor is he the first to shock readers into paying attention. Some well-known transgressive authors include: D.H. Lawrence, Alan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Anthony Burgess, Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis, and Irvine Welsh.

Through the reading of novels by these authors and Palahniuk, we are forced to evaluate ourselves, the present society which we live in, and our place in society. Though I’ve only read four of Palahniuk’s novels, each novel has given me a tremendous amount of topics to consider in relation to my society. How great does my consumer lifestyle define and drive me? How have men been affected or altered by their shifting role in society? Women? Just how affected and susceptible am I to the constant noise I am assaulted by daily (traffic, cell phones, loud conversations, music, etc.)? What is the impact of traffic on our society?

And the main question, the ultimate existential question, the one thrust in your face as you read Palahniuk and other transgressive authors: how do I fill the void? Sex? Violence? Consumerism? Exercise? Work? TV? Blogging? Love? This is what makes fiction like Palahniuk’s most important and is most effectively done through his use of disturbing elements.

For readers who dismiss and even violently oppose Palahniuk’s literary merits, I consider the same observation made by Shot Dunyan in Palahniuk’s Rant. Shot complains, “Everybody want[s] the same mass-marketed crap [….] just wanting something to kill time. Nothing dark and edgy or challenging. Nothing artsy. Just so long as it’s got a happy ending,” (114).

Do you want a happy ending? Or are you interested in exploring the grittier parts of society in an effort to better understand today’s human experience? If so, I recommend that you check out the novels of Chuck Palahniuk. They are truly American classics.

If you are interested in reading Palahniuk, then read on, as I rip off Book Riot’s ongoing feature Reading Pathways, and suggest a three-book reading sequence for getting acquainted with Palahniuk.

1. Start with my introductory novel: Lullaby

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

2. Move on to something a bit weirder: Invisible Monsters

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

3. You’re ready for the full experience, with Choke, or, for the really daring, Haunted.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Sources:

“Chuck Palahniuk.” Wikipedia.org. 9 Jan. 2012.

Ess, Magda. “Introduction to the Genre of Transgressive Fiction.” Helium.com. 21 Apr. 2009. Helium. 9 Jan. 2012.

Palahniuk, Chuck. Rant. New York: Doubleday, 2007.

Soukhanov, Anne H. “Word Watch.” The Atlantic Online. Dec. 1996. The Atlantic Monthly. 9 Jan. 2012.

“Transgressive Fiction.” Wikipedia.org. 9 Jan. 2012.

Links:

Chuck Palahniuk on Goodreads

The Cult: The Official Chuck Palahniuk Site