April 23rd, 2007
In Chuck Palaniuk's eighth novel, he has created a new vision of the future that differs from every other dystopian work of science fiction: it feels real, and most importantly, it feels likely.
If you plan on reading “Rant,” I hope you stop reading this review, and every other review. We’re just going to spoil it for you. Instead, come back afterward; trust me, you’ll want to come back. This book is too fucked up to just finish and forget.
“Rant” is structurally different from Palahniuk’s other works, in that it is told in the oral biography style, with interviews from dozens of different people. While the structure is different, the themes and style and story are classic Palahniuk. The oral history of Buster “Rant” Casey isn’t even really a history of the man; it is a history of the times he lived in.
As you start reading this book, you’re looking for clues, for hints, about who Rant Casey really is, and why all these people are talking about him. He’s a notorious Patient Zero, responsible for many, many deaths, but little else is known at first. You hear from people that knew him when he was younger, and the story is a simple one; small town boy, doesn’t fit in. While young Rant’s childhood antics may have seemed innocent at the time (among the many anecdotes, Rant becomes the “Tooth Fairy,” in his town, flooding the market with some of the antique coins he’s discovered), they are supposed to appear more sinister now, after everything that has happened. Some of the “interviewees” are interesting, notably Rant’s own mother, who contradicts every other interviewee. The character of the town’s Deputy Sheriff, who turns out to be Rant’s childhood enemy, is rather flat, resorting to age-old stereotypes.
Continuing through the book, you discover this isn’t a simple history of some crazed sociopath. Rather, you’re on this trippy spiral down into a deep, dark rabbit hole. Every few chapters, the entire tone and focus of the story seems to shift into a different direction, but by the time you reach the end, the whole novel just clicks. It works.
I had no idea what to expect from this book going in, and I think that’s part of the reason why I loved it so much. Reading through the pages I felt like some explorer, discovering a new land, this future that Palahniuk painted so vividly. A future where there are no books and movies, only emotion tracks, to simulate feelings. The cities are so overcrowded that they’ve split the use into day and night, where the Nighttimers are the new ultimate minority. A cross between blacks in the earlier 20th century, and people with AIDS in the 1980’s. They’re the lower class citizens, the slackers, the social outcasts. It’s telling that at one point we’re informed no Nighttimer has ever been elected President, and also that some businesses refuse to allow Nighttimers access.
None of the Nighttimers interviewed seem to mind much, though. It’s the Daytimers who have all the problems with them. A Daytimer father is ashamed of his kid, who became a Nighttimer. Daytimers are ultra paranoid over the spread of the crazyrabies. Nighttimers actually prefer it the way it is, because so many are involved in Party Crashing; a traffic study that has evolved into the ultimate recreation activity.
And just when you think you have a handle on the novel, it shifts again. No, it’s not a little book about a crazy future. It’s REALLY about people high on rabies, crashing into each other to travel back in time, with the ultimate goal of killing their parents and living forever as a god, or seeding future generations along a line. There’s some seriously twisted stuff in here, and it was told in such a matter-of-fact way that you completely accept when you’re told Rant traveled back in time to prevent his own conception, and ended up marrying his mother and raising himself.
“Rant” can be interpreted in many different ways. It could be seen as commentary on the population explosion, or the terrible traffic situation in our major cities, or even the paranoia of the middle class. I like to keep it simple.
I see “Rant” as a great novel. And I’d like to personally thank Chuck for going easy on me this time around. I was physically sick reading “Haunted” (threw up once!), and was glad when only my mind was scrambled this time.
My rating: A