I hadn't intended to read this book. When the chance to review it was offered to me, I had just finished reading and writing about Choke. As I said at the time, I think Chuck Palahniuk is a damn good writer, but his style, his attitude, his subject matter are all things that I can only handle in small doses.
But there I was, opening up my package, and tucked away beneath American Youth was Palahniuk's latest, Rant: The Oral History of Buster Casey (published by Random House Canada). Oh well, I thought, I guess I'll read it. After all, I do have a train ride coming up. Plus, I thought, it'll be a good exercise to try and come up with something new to say, something different than just rehashing my conflicted feelings about the angry young man's poster author.
Turned out to be an easy exercise, finding something different to say, because Rant is something different from other Palahniuk works that I've read. There are similarities — descriptions of bodily effluvia, sociopathic behaviour explained as raging against the machine, repulsive characters, casual sex, boys and their mothers and compulsively readable writing are nothing new for Palahniuk. There's enough here to quickly identify Rant as a Palhaniukian work.
While the themes and the tics might be the same, though, the form is something different. The first thing you encounter in Rant is an author's note:
This book is written in the style of an oral history, a form which requires interviewing a wide variety of witnesses and compiling their testimony. Anytime multiple sources are questioned about a shared experience, it's inevitable for them occasionally to contradict each other.
Instead of Palahniuk's traditional, unreliable first person narrator, in Rant we encounter a series of voices, of whose accounts we are forewarned to be skeptical. This is a forehead-smackingly obvious choice in its perfection for Palahniuk, who has always seemed fascinated by the lies of self-agrandizement and self-flagellation. Are these narrators victims of the foibles of memory? Or are the consciously creating mythologies to support the lives that they have chosen?
The book is the story — the mythology — of one Rant (aka Buster, aka Buddy) Casey, either a villain or an iconoclast for reasons that are revealed layer by layer as the book unfolds. The mystery of Rant's significance combines with the near-future SF-setting to leave the reader with the kind of disorientation felt by an adult entering a childhood bedroom after the house hass been sold.
There are no spaceships, no teleporters, no aliens, no nuclear holocausts, but there are phrases, appalations, take-for-granted details that are left unexplained. Like clouds gathering before the storm, they fill up more and more of the story, keeping you reading your way toward the thunderclap payoff.
Rant has me standing by my previous assessment: Chuck Palahniuk is a mighty good writer. Even better, though, is the sure knowledge that he's still got surprises tucked up his sleeve, surprises like Rant Casey.