Review: Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey
Boosted peaks and road games.
Rant's got rabies. Rant's got a girlfriend with a withered arm and a gimp leg. Rant's addicted to spider venom.
Longtime fans of Chuck Palahniuk, without even a mention of his newest novel, would know the above statements describe a character as only he can create one. His eighth novel, Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, continues this beautiful precedent, even deifying his character to a level not seen since Survivor. Via stories, anecdotes, rumors, and general ramblings told by characters connected both intimately and distantly to the rabid, venom-addicted abasiophiliac the novel creates perhaps Palahniuk's most complex character yet, and a complex world to match.
Rant revolves around a small town kid who spends his adolescence getting high on poisonous spiders, chewing road tar like tobacco, and coning naive housewives out of their family fortunes. Posing one evening as a "night timer" he joins in an urban demolition derby where he meets three kindred miscreants. Their personal stories of Rant Casey, collected with those of his parents, childhood friends, and others explore Rant's legacy, including what his saliva means to the future of mankind, how he could single-handedly supply the Middleton Tooth Museum, and just how he acquired the superhuman ability to tell a woman's cholesterol level by tasting her pussy.
Strangely enough however, Rant gets barely a word of his own.
Buster "Rant" Casey exists less as an involved character and more as a communal reference point from which to draw out the stories and experiences of those who know him. The novel's structure takes the form of a patchwork of small vignettes, implying a story more than forcing one linearly. The multiple point-of-view, documentary-styled narrative shares a vein with, as Palahniuk himself writes in the 'Author's Note' at the beginning of the novel, Capote by Geroge Plimpton, Edie by Jean Sein, and Lexicon Devil by Brenda Mullen. Ron Carlson's short story 'The Chromium Hook' also comes to mind.
It's this patchwork structure that forces such depth and complexity from the title character. Unlike previous Palahniuk novels Rant devotes an unusual amount of space to developing the characters—to a degree not seen since Choke. Surprisingly, with fifty-six speaking voices, twenty or so of which could count as "main" characters the reader never feels deserted by the author; forced to stop and consciously differentiate one character's voice from another. Unlike Palahniuk's 2005 literary hiccup Haunted, each character stands on his/her own as a truly unique voice allowing a natural flow, and more importantly, a confidence in the author's direction that just wasn't there with Haunted.
Rant's only true fault lies with Palahniuk's stylistic minimalist choices. As is the case with most of his novels, sections tend to ramble at times, long passages devoted to simple matters that might have best served its novel as short moments of direct explanation. The rules of Party Crashing, for example, a game involving an urban demolition derby league, could have been peppered throughout the novel as opposed to being dumped on the reader all at once about 2/3rds of the way through. The text book delivery of information has become a staple with Palahniuk's work, but where it originally may have fit the dissociative identity disorder behind the unnamed narrator of Fight Club or the overly structured lifestyle of Tender Branson in Survivor, it has lately become obvious that Palahniuk often includes these rants simply because it is Palahniuk-esque to do so.
As the novel winds down, and questioned are being answered, Palahniuk borrows strongly from the science-fiction genre incorporating, among other things, cybernetic ports in a person's head which allow experiences to be transmitted wirelessly. It's not surprising to see Palahniuk incorporate genre fiction elements into his writing. He has stated many times that he respects genre fiction, specifically horror and science fiction, for its ability to place social issues in foreign contexts so that the issues can be explored without consequence. So what's the social commentary offered with Rant? Socialization:
Beginning with Santa Clause as a cognitive exercise, a child is encouraged to share the same idea of reality as his peers. Even if that reality is patently invented and ludicrous, belief is encouraged with gifts that support and promote the common cultural lies. [pg. 130]
By the end of the novel the reader is left with plenty of questions, sure, but they are the sort of questions that inspire debate and general community around the novel; arguably the very reason for a creative work. Look for the forums to explode within the days following Rant's May 1st official release.
[Reviewed by Caleb Ross]
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Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk