Best known for his novel “Fight Club,” Chuck Palahniuk was thrust to a level of stardom by that novel and the film it inspired. Palahniuk is thought of as maybe the rawest author of popular fiction as his works explore violence and sexuality in a way that belies his mainstream following. I had never read a Palahniuk novel before and thought that I would get my first exposure to the author by reading something of than “Fight Club,” which I have seen the movie based on the book but have not read the novel. I decided on “Rant” as the premise of the novel caught my interest.
Buster “Rant” Casey grew up as a small town hellion. He definitely had his quirks and was not afraid to pass them along, or inflict them on, those around him. One of these strange things is that animals hate Rant and are prone to attacking him. Because of this, he got rabies several times and passed the disease along to his peers. The repeated exposure to rabies, however, eventually leads to something far more disturbing.
When Rant leaves his hometown, he joins up with a group that is only allowed out of their houses at night and who get their entertainment by crashing cars. It is during one of these “Party Crashing” derbies that Rant is killed in a fiery crash. But while Rant’s life may have been a short one, he did leave behind a lasting legacy of a new strain of rabies that is resistant to medication and is killing thousands. Whether he was just an unfortunate small town boy or a bioterrorist, Rant lead a life that was nothing if not eventful.
“Rant” is nothing if not raw and yet I thought that it was strangely compelling. The writing style is out of the ordinary as the story is told as an oral history rather than a single narrative. It is pieced together through fictional interviews with the characters of the story so that the different tones of the interviews causes the events of the story to be illustrated in different ways. It also means that there is an agenda to each recounting so that there is no trusted narrator in the story. This keeps the reader on edge and forces the reader to not only read the words on the page but to think about who is telling them and the motives they possess. Rant is sometimes almost a god and sometimes one of the most reprehensible people to have ever lived. Palahniuk puts them all together in a type of mishmash to flesh out Rant’s life from varying perspectives. I would imagine that this would not sit well with some readers but I had no problem with it at all and I think that it added to the effect of the story.
So what exactly is “Rant?” While I would imagine that some would label it homage to violence, and it definitely is violent, I did not find the harshness and violence of the story to be gratuitous. Rather, I found it to be a compelling piece of social commentary on how the counterculture of society is viewed by the greater culture and how the line between savior and destroyer is often simply a matter of perspective. “Rant” is an unconventional novel that was always fresh and entertaining. While I would not imagine that I will even want to read it again, I definitely think that it was worth reading. It is also to see that an author like Palahniuk is able to write in this fashion and still be accepted by the mainstream. I certainly understand both sides of opinion on Palahniuk as this is a novel of excess but I did not feel that he crossed the line and used violence only for the sake of violence. He incorporated that violence into the story to make it more shocking and real. I will definitely read more from Palahniuk in the future and enjoyed this first taste of his writing.