Palahniuk novel delights, disgusts

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May 1, 2007

1:53 AM

Today’s is a world desensitized and jaded, accepting images of teddy bears and car crashes as equal. However, Chuck Palahniuk, author of hit novels such as “Fight Club,” stands apart from other contemporary authors because his novels can still cause revulsion and disgust among a generation raised on MTV. Consider his new novel, “Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey,” an excellent example of this ability.

p. ‘Rant’ is written in a unique style, as an “oral biography,” similar to George Plimpton’s “Truman Capote.” The novel is composed of quotes, drawn from dozens of fictional contributors and cobbled together as in a documentary. Notably (and appropriately) absent is the subject, Buster “Rant” Casey, although there are quotes from his mother, lover, friends and acquaintances, as well as experts in history and anthropology.

p. It seems as though nothing in the novel is ever stated clearly, and this was obviously intended by Palahniuk. Nothing is solid; everything, every person’s account, is slightly different. Each person remembers events a certain way. Each person also brings unique information to the forefront, revealing facts about Rant that may never have been known otherwise.

p. The extent of Rant’s doings is not entirely clear because of this ambiguity. Some things are made clear at the beginning: Rant was a rather deranged person. He infected many with rabies, although it’s not clear how many. The tale is set in the near future.

p. That’s it.

p. Everything else is discovered slowly, throughout the book, in off-hand remarks, and usually has to be pieced together by linking several different accounts.

p. One thing that seems like a complete rip-off is the new form of entertainment everyone enjoys in the future. People have turned away from books and movies in favor of a new technology that is pretty much like “The Matrix.” Everyone has “ports” in the back of their heads where they can plug in programs to run. The programs are created by “out-cording” or recording all of the sensory stimuli a person feels to be later re-experienced by the masses — an experience called “boosting a peak.” One of the major characters, Shot Dunyan, was failed out of “neural transcription” school because his thesis project was too radical.

p. He describes working in a rental shop and being angered by people renting out fluffy happy ending stories instead of edgier, darker ones. “Nobody wants to plug in and boost 10 hours of ‘Getting Gun Shot in Wartime’ or ‘Last Minutes Alive: The Final Moments Aboard the World’s Worst Airplane Crashes.’ That shit, I love. My favorite part is one crash where the witness has just started to out-cord his peak experience. He’s just switched to out-cord his transcript, and you can smell the jet fuel the moment before it flashes. You can taste the bourbon still in his mouth. The airplane seat belt so tight it cuts across your hips. The armrests are shaking under your elbows, and your bones go stiff, all your joints grinding together inside tight muscle.”

p. Palahniuk’s style is at its best in ‘Rant.’ This is how the peers of Mary Shelley must have felt when they read “Frankenstein,” a novel that now doesn’t inspire fear at all. It’s literature at its most influential, creating strong emotional and sensual reactions in the reader.

p. Rant is a complex and multifarious individual — an understatement once you’ve read the final chapters. His childhood was one destined to make him the horribly odd person he becomes. His mother was only 13 years old at his birth, and his grandmother prophesied that he was the spawn of the devil. As a child he spent his time sticking his hands and legs into holes in hopes of being bitten by poisonous spiders, coyotes and raccoons.

p. The first time he was bitten was while he searched for Easter eggs in his mother’s garden. He was bitten by a black widow, but his father denied him medical treatment. Although he didn’t die from the bite, he did experience an odd side effect: his first erection. From then on, Rant associated poison with sex. He contracted rabies so many times and spread it to so many people that he created a new epidemic.

p. The future created by Palahniuk is bleak. People are “time-segregated” into Daytimers and Nighttimers. Eventually all Nighttimers become infected with rabies either directly or indirectly through Rant. Some Nighttimers have become members of a pseudo-secret society that spends its time in a demolition derby called Party Crashing. They drive around, searching for other Party Crashers to ram into. But this seemingly innocent game carries a shocking purpose.

p. The ending is, sadly, rather anticlimactic and reminiscent of the ending of Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” The reader is left wondering about the many loose ends that Palahniuk leaves hanging. Although it’s an excellent work, ‘Rant’ would be better read by fans of Palahniuk, as his style is simply too radical for new readers.

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