|Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Not since college have I torn through a book in a single weekend (and even then, only because it was expected of me), but Chuck Palahniuk's ("Fight Club") latest – "Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey" – is so grossly original that it's near impossible to put down. Remember that old adage about Pringles chips? Well, it's like that, only twice as addictive and 10 times as good. The novel is also Palahniuk's most ambitious yet, featuring not only the usual dose of dark comedy and social comedy that you find hidden away in his character's dissociative narrations, but also the most interesting character study since Bret Easton Ellis' "American Psycho."
Buster "Rant" Casey isn't like other kids. He spends his childhood days collecting poisonous spiders, subjecting himself to random pest attacks, chewing on black tar and single-handedly inflating the small town of Middleton's economy with the circulation of rare gold coins that he's discovered in abandoned paint cans. Taking his newfound inheritance with him into the city, Rant is introduced to a group of "nighttimers" who waste away the hours playing a sort of urban demolition derby called Party Crashing. It's in this violent late-night game of cat-and-mouse that Rant meets his glorious demise. Through the personal testimonies of his three closest friends – as well as the stories and rumors of 53 other characters – the reader learns how the saliva of one man launched a city-wide epidemic of rabies.
What's most unique about Palahniuk's novel is that while Rant is the main character, he never speaks except when someone is recalling a specific memory. It's like a literary documentary, with stories adapted into cinematic set pieces. This works to the disadvantage of the reader at the beginning. While the story can take some time to get into, once you make it past the first 100 pages you'll find it increasingly difficult to put down. One would think that the disjointed recollections of 50-odd voices would make the story seem distant and unrefined, but it only makes Rant that much more interesting.
In fact, there's even a point in the novel where you stop caring about Rant, and care more about the individual voices that dominate the storytelling. Like Echo Lawrence, Rant's disfigured girlfriend and fellow Party Crasher, or Tina Something, the voice of Graphic Traffic, a twisted late-night radio program covering the horrendous injuries acquired during a Party Crash gone wrong. True, some of the characters would have been better left out of the mix (especially those who are given their own chapters but fail to move the story forward). A last-minute subplot threatens to ruin all that Palahniuk has built up to, but it works toward something greater in the end.
As has been evidenced in his earlier novels, Palahniuk has a way of making the most appalling monsters appear human, and Rant certainly isn't an exception. This is a man whose nickname is derived from the sound of vomiting, and who knowingly infects others with rabies without a second thought. He's no Tyler Durden, but he's definitely a great addition to the author's ever-growing rogue's gallery of memorable characters. In fact, while the character of Rant doesn't quite match up to that of Durden, his story makes for the better novel. Not only has Palahniuk matured as an author, but also he's shown his willingness to cross genre lines when necessary. It's also the perfect substitute for those of us desperately awaiting Ellis' next psychosocial thriller. Until that time, it only begs the question: when can we expect the film version?