Friday, January 14, 2011


I'm not really sure where to start with this one. Have you seen Fight Club? Or better - have you read the book? If you answered "yes" to either of those questions, then you are fairly aware of the nature of Palahniuk's imagination and originality. Or insanity. I'm not sure. If not, then I highly recommend opening your mind to his prose. Start with this book!

Rant: An Oral History of Buster Casey tells the title character's biography using oral history interviews. Palahniuk introduces characters by their own narratives, one by one, and as the reader learns more and more about them, from their own interviews and those of others, he becomes fully entrenched.

The only character we never hear from directly is Rant himself, as he is dead. Or presumed dead.

As usual, I am wary of giving away too much plot for fear of ruining your own reading experience. I would feel awful if I deprived you of any sharp intakes of breath or any exclamations of incredulity.

But really, the main reason that I am having such a difficult time with this review is because Rant is a colossal, amazing, ridiculous mind fuck. And I mean that in the best possible way.

By blending science fiction and what we consider to be the "normal" human experience, Palahniuk created a world that seems completely plausible. And terrifying. The reader simply accepts that some of the citizens in this United States are "Daytimers," while others - the more undesirable lot - are "Nighttimers." Throw in a rabies outbreak, ports, "party crashing," and a healthy dose of fear, this mandated class-based society begins to unravel with even the threat of infection.

The real star of this novel is Palahniuk's writing. I even stopped to write down some of the best lines. When describing one of the characters as pretty, he wrote, "...the pretty you only look when you love the person taking the picture." I think that I mulled over that one sentence fragment for five minutes. Think about it - what a great thought.

This form of storytelling, the oral history, might be slightly unusual when reading fiction, but is not new. Palahniuk's writing is fluid and powerful, and its strength comes from the fact that the characters are "interviewed" after the true story has already happened. There are mini cliffhangers peppered throughout the text that found me flipping through the pages as quickly as possible, and never once did the story falter. Palahniuk cleverly included a "disclaimer" that easily explained away any inconsistencies in the text by explaining that oral histories may have contradictions because people remember their pasts differently than others.

But I never really noticed contradictions.

All of the "interviews" are mostly with people who knew Rant best: his family in Middleton and his "big city" compatriots - fellow Party Crashers. Additionally, we hear from anthropologists, epidemiologists, historians, and government officials. Because of Rant's actions, he's become both an urban legend and a hero. A boogeyman and a role model. He dared to question the status quo and for that he is both feared and revered.

Other reviewers have read Palahniuk's work before. I have not. They were not nearly as enthused as I was after finishing Rant, but still praised his work. I saw a lot of Fight Club in this novel, with an alternate reality and a secret otherworld, and they were similar enough that it helped me to understand the story. I'm sure that some readers might be annoyed by the similarities, but I found them refreshing. I do wonder, however, if this is the format followed by the majority of Palahniuk's novels.

The complexity of Rant is only palatable if one opens his mind to the possibility of a very different world. Allow yourself to be completely absorbed by this world and let go.

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