**WARNING! The following book review may contain "spoilers." Chuck Palahniuk's books are not based on surprises or twists as in a traditional mystery novel; however, I do reveal major plot points that don't come into the story until the end of the novel.**
Chuck Palahniuk is my favorite author. I discovered him after Fight Club became one of my favorite movies, and have not been disappointed since. His newest book is Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, a fictional account of the life and times of Buster "Rant" Casey. Rant is a small town kid whose hobbies include playing Tooth Fairy to the kids in town, and getting bitten by poisonous and rabid wildlife.
After high school, Rant escapes to the city, where he joins up with Party Crashing. Party Crashing is not dissimilar to the fight clubs of the eponymous novel. Teams of people gather during specified game windows, with specified signifiers on their cars, and spend the evening crashing into one another. Interestingly, although the activity is secretive and considered an underground activity, there is a long list of rules associated with Party Crashing, meant to keep the game safe and fun for both participants and bystanders.
Party Crashing was around before Rant showed up, but he instantly became the poster boy for the activity. He also became a modern-day Typhoid Mary, starting a national epidemic of rabies of bubonic-plague proportions. Rant "dies" during a police chase that ends in a fiery crash… but his remains are never recovered.
This book holds all the elements that make Palahniuk one of my favorite authors. The characters are all unique, odd "outsiders," but never treated as if they are anything abnormal. The characters operate in an almost parallel universe – something that is not the norm in our real-life society, but again, one that is not presented as bad or wrong. In this case, the setting is an odd balance of current futurism. Though no actual time period is specified, it has the feel of taking place in 2007.
But not a 2007 we are living in. In order to ease overcrowding and road congestion, the country has been divided into Daytimers and Nighttimers: two different sets of people, living completely regular lives, but divided by strict day-and-night curfews. The government has also effectively outlawed books and movies in favor of "porting" and "peak boosting" – ports in the back of the neck that can have different total sensory experiences piped in.
Rant is written in the style of an oral history, where many, many sources are resourced and interviewed, with their testimony intermingling. The oral history offers many different viewpoints to various incidents. This style works very well for the story of Rant, who lived many different lives for many different people. The government knows him as a walking plague; childhood friends know him as a scheming kid who may be brilliant or may be crazy; Party Crashers know him as a drifter with senses that border on psychic; younger generations know him as a legend or a god.
Unfortunately, I don't think Palahniuk really nails the style well. The intercut testimonies are deftly woven - he has always been skilled at offering a fractured story in an easy-to-follow prose. However, something like this is tough because you need to come up with unique voices for all of your sources. With the scholarly ones, you know they will all more or less have the same tone. But Rant's mother, Irene, slips from simple, hillbilly speech for shorter passages, and near-poetry for longer passages. Similarly, it felt awkward to have Rant's Party Crashing friends giving great detail about Rant's childhood escapades – even recounting entire conversations — even though they were not there.
**This is the part that might be considered a spoiler**
The novel's conclusion seems to come out of nowhere. About two-thirds of the way through, it is revealed that Rant Casey is a time traveler of sorts, using Party Crashing to obtain a level of subconsciousness that will physically transport you back somewhere in time. The main goal of this time travel is to impregnate your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, thereby trying to "perfect" a creation of yourself. I think it was jarring for me because I expected this story to be more focused on the Party Crashing (which it was) and the rabies plague (which was treated more as a backdrop). I personally do not believe in time travel (largely because the notion is far too abstract), so it was hard to suspend my disbelief when the rest of the novel was rooted in a very real world.
Maybe a little different from this one, a little odd with more restrictions, but a world which I could easily see as being real, as something I could visit. The time travel aspect, then, felt out of place. It is a fascinating concept, though, and one that would provide more than enough material for a completely separate novel.
As with all of Palahniuk's books, Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey is better-than-solid. It is well-written, unique, and absorbing. I would rank it up near Haunting, Invisible Monster, and Fight Club. Is it selfish of me that I am already eagerly awaiting a new novel from Chuck?