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Friday, August 7, 2020

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Palahniuk’s puzzling ‘Rant’ entices


Once again, Chuck Palahniuk proves his Midas touch can turn any beyond-belief premise into a bestseller with Rant, An Oral Biography of Buster Casey.

Imagine a world in which you can time travel and change your future self. Imagine a small-town boy who moves to the city and brings with him a disease that sparks a nationwide epidemic. Imagine groups of misfits who only go out at night and crash cars into each other for kicks. That seems like a lot to imagine, yet it all happens in Rant. And somehow Palahniuk distracts you from his inefficient literary muscle by supplying you with the page-turning plot twists and counter-culture appeal for which he’s famous.

At first, the novel seems straightforward enough. Palahniuk composes Rant in the style of an oral history. But much like a documentary film, accounts are interspersed so that the novel is paced more like a thriller than a history, making that history more palatable. These accounts are given by those who knew – or thought they knew – Buster Casey, otherwise known as Rant. Friends, family, former employers, landlords, historians, journalists and politicians all have something to say about the infamous "superspreader," or Patient Zero, of the Rabies Epidemic.

The reader searches for meaning in their testimonies, wanting to know what sort of person becomes a serial killer. They ask why he meticulously arranged his snotty boogers above his bed, and how he could know who an old bloodied maxi pad belonged too. It’s the classic human desire to make sense of tragedy – with a Chuck Palahniuk twist.

And this desire is reflected in the characters’ own suppositions; they attempt to figure out Rant’s heightened sense of smell, his obsession with poisonous animal bites, his uncanny ability to manipulate anyone and profit from any situation has to do with his motive for intentionally spreading rabies and the manner in which he died. (I can’t give it away, but I’ll give you a clue: Rant doesn’t die of rabies).

In their stories, however, the characters reveal as much about themselves as they do about Rant. Echo Lawrence, a prostitute and Rant’s city girlfriend, was physically deformed after being involved in a car accident as a child. The accident killed her parents, so in an attempt to recreate that moment, Echo becomes involved in Party Crashing, where Night-timers, people who only go out at night, form teams and crash their cars into other Party Crashers.

Shot Dunyan explains how he failed to receive his master’s in fine arts for neural transcriptions when interviewed. Confused? In Rant, the film industry has been taken over by "neural transcriptions," or virtual reality experiences. People can literally "plug in" to the experience by means of a port at the back of one’s neck. After Rant transmits rabies to him, Shot can no longer "boost peaks," the term describing uploading these virtual experiences. In essence, Shot can no longer participate in the activity that defined him.

In Neddy Nelson’s interview, he rambles more about conspiracy theory than he does recollect memories of Rant. He talks about the future and time travel. The reader wonders how exactly that concerns Rant Casey.

These three are just a sampling of Palahniuk’s characters, and, for the most part, he succeeds in crafting each character his or her own unique voice. Considering there are more than 50 speaking characters, this is quite an astonishing feat. However, there are some characters, mostly doctors and theologians, whose testimonies sound like they were written straight from a textbook. The voices of some other characters overlap, making the novel seem inconsistent. At the end of the novel, Palahniuk leaves many loose ends untied. In a way, Rant seems unfinished.

The book may have its flaws, but the reader can’t put it down. Palahniuk leaves his reader confused but wanting more. Perhaps this is because he is embarking on his first ever book series. The author will compose two other novels based on Rant. Fans can expect a film version after the trilogy is completed.

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey Chuck Palahniuk $24.95, Doubleday Verdict: An infectious read.


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