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#27 – Rant

July 5, 2007

died in a motor crash, i came back for you the perfect version of myselfChuck Palahniuk is easily one of my favourite authors.  He’s one of the four writers who have opened my eyes to new styles of literature and completely changed my reading habits (more on them if I ever manage to finish Only Revolutions this summer).  Consequently, I’ve read everything he’s published, including his essay collection Stranger Than Fiction and his Portland travelogue Fugitives and Refugees.  So I was very excited when Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey came out this year.  After 2005’s Haunted, a collection of short stories strung together with an overarching plot, I was glad to see Palahniuk returning to his first straightforward novel in a while.  Turns out not to be the case.

As the book’s title indicates, Rant is written like an oral biography, much like Lexicon Devil (coincidentally, Palahniuk recommends that book in the foreword as a good example of the genre).  It’s the life story of Buster “Rant” Casey, a bored kid from Midwest America who moves to a dystopic, futuristic and inadvertently becomes Patient Zero is the deadliest plague ever to hit the United States.  He’s described by the dust jacket as potentially “the most efficient serial killer of our time”.  Sounds interesting, right?  Well, it definitely is.  A lot of really good ideas going on here – my only problem was with the presentation.

If you’ve read a Chuck Palahniuk book before, you were no doubt aware of his writing style: short, disjointed phrases repeated like mantras, little bits of trivia or tips mentioned throughout by the narrator, and usually an eleventh hour twist that suddenly brings into focus some element from earlier in the book which seemed random before.  If you’ve read a couple Palahniuk books, you can probably identify his writing after a few paragraphs of reading something new.  I’m not knocking his style here; I still find it brilliant and he keeps it fresh through his fascinating plots and concepts.  However, when viewed through the “oral history” conceit, it’s a bit jarring.  Every character winds up talking with the exact same voice, and I feel like I’m watching an show by Aaron Sorkin.  Incidentally, I’m in the middle of  World Way Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks right now, and while it might be an unfair comparison to make, it’s a really great example of how well a fictional oral history can work when the characters are all distinct and speak with their own nuances.  A cast of dozens of Chuck Palahniuks is just mentally exhausting.

And it’s a shame, because as I say, a lot of great ideas going on here.  In fact, there’s probably too many, given the format.  As it stands, you feel like you don’t fully get to know Rant Casey, because the book’s interviewees don’t satisfactorily cover any of the elements of his life, and the narrative sometimes feels like it’s got ADD.  If Palahniuk had trimmed his plot devices by about half, or even let the story stand on its own without being told through the filter of Rant’s friends and family, I think it might have worked a lot better.  It was still a good read, though, and Chuck apparently plans to write more books in the Rant series after finishing his next one, Snuff.  So I’ll sit patiently by and wait to read whatever he comes out with next; there’s a lot of potential here and I’d like to see where he goes with it.

Of course, if you’re already a fan of Chuck Palahniuk, you’re going to read Rant anyway, reviews be damned: that’s what we do.  If you’re not a fan yet, you really should be, but you ought to start with Fight Club or Choke [EDIT: James is right; Choke is my favourite but Survivor makes a much better introduction to Palahniuk] before working your way up to Rant.  You’ll thank me later.

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One comment

  1. Survivor Calum! While Choke definately has a marquee chapter 2, Survivor is probably the best intro to palahniuk that there is.



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