AICN BOOKS: Moriarty Rants About Chuck Palahniuk’s New Novel RANT!
Published at: April 20, 2007, 4:42 a.m. CST by Moriarty
Has it really been eleven years since Chuck Palahniuk first fired FIGHT CLUB into the brain pan of popular consciousness? In the years since, he’s become one of the most interesting and reliably outré authors working, and even if I haven’t loved every one of his books, I find him to be consistently engaging, and I’m always hoping that he’ll write another stunner, something else that will knock me on my ass.
And with RANT: AN ORAL HISTORY OF BUSTER CASEY, he’s done exactly that.
When I first started the book, I was afraid I was reading a thinly-disguised reworking of FIGHT CLUB, and that Rant Casey was simply Tyler Durden with a different name. But by the time I set the book down after reading that last page, all thoughts of FIGHT CLUB had been wiped away. Yes, Rant Casey is a charismatic figure at the center of an underground movement, but what that movement is, what Rant stands for, and how the book unfolds... totally different. This is closer to something like the movie PRIMER than it is to any of Palahniuk has written so far, a brain-bender that works on a whole lot of levels, and shot through with a profound sadness.
The decision to write the novel as an “oral history” isn’t particularly new. Max Brooks mined the same technique to spectacular effect last year with WORLD WAR Z, for example. But what the technique does here is it addresses the way different people can view the same situation and walk away with radically different perspectives. In this case, the entire book is told from the points-of-view of people who knew Rant Casey, each of them having known a slightly different person. The book grapples with the contradictions of who he was and what he may or may not have done during his lifetime. There are people who loved him, people who hated him, who admired him or feared him or even idolized him. His father, his girlfriend, his friends, his followers, his victims... they all have their turn. The only voice missing from the book is that of Rant Casey himself.
Maybe. Sort of.
Was Rant Casey a serial killer? Was he “patient zero” in a nationwide outbreak of superrabies? Was he part of an underground culture called Party Crashing, made up of people who take part in car crashes for fun and excitement? Or was he none of those things, a blank slate onto which other people projected their own dark fantasies?
I certainly have my theories, but what I thought shifted several times over the course of the book. And that’s exactly the point. Palahniuk sums it up with the very first interview in the book. Wallace Boyer is a car salesman whose connection to Casey is tenuous at best, as he explains:
“Like most people, I didn’t meet and talk to Rant Casey until after he was dead. That’s how it works for most celebrities: after they croak, their circle of close friends just explodes. A dead celebrity can’t walk down the street without meeting a million best buddies he never met in real life.
Dying was the best career move Jeff Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy ever made. After Gaetan Dugas was dead, the number of sex partners saying they’d fucked him, it went through the roof.
The way Rant Casey used to say it: Folks build a reputation by attacking you while you’re alive – or praising you after you ain’t.”
Boyer found himself on a flight next to Rant Casey’s father, on his way back from collecting Rant’s dead body, and their conversation, innocuous when you first read it, turns out to contain clues about the entire nature of the story you’re reading. The picture of Rant Casey that emerges from all of these interviews is a fascinating one. He was born in a small town called Middleton, where he quickly generated a mythology that everyone knew. He had a positively canine sense of taste and smell that expressed itself sexually. He could allegedly lick any woman’s privates and tell her not only what she’d eaten at every meal for weeks ahead of time, but also what emotional state they’d been in during each of those meals and what sexual partners, if any, they had during that time. He was able to catalog those smells and tastes effectively by bedding every woman in Middleton before he was sixteen.
More impressive is the way Rant seems armed with an almost supernatural knowledge of the future, as does his father. Not since Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim has there been a character more unstuck in time. All the other mysteries about Rant’s identity fall to the wayside by about the halfway point. There are a lot of (very entertaining) red herrings here, but once you figure out what the book is really about, that’s when it stops being a joke. Instead, it becomes a deeply sad portrait of a guy determined to make himself into something godlike who is willing to do anything, no matter how horrible and taboo, and the awful cost it seems to extract from him.
Palahniuk’s razor wit has rarely been sharper, and the book moves at a brisk pace. It’s a fast read. I finished it in two nights. It’s a great tightrope walk in terms of tone, and I think it speaks well of the way he’s grown as a writer. It’s easy to accuse Palahniuk of simply coasting on his former glories, as I’ve seen some reviewers do, but I think this is the book where he reminds us of just why we noticed him in the first place. Doubleday will release the book in May, and I urge you to check it out and prepare to have your sense of good taste, as well as your notions of linear reality, gleefully violated by one of our most wickedly talented writers.