Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey
by Chuck Palahniuk (Doubleday / $24.95)
Raw and unblinking, Chuck Palahniuk’s novels often feel like primal scream therapy, unloading into the void and holding back very little.
His deadpan, withering social commentary has spawned legions of fans who anticipate his works with a fervor generally reserved for rock stars—it isn’t overreaching to connect the industrial-tinged nihilism of, say, Trent Reznor to Palahniuk’s razor-edged fantasies.
Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey continues the author’s penchant for toying with conventions of form—2005’s Haunted was a novel masquerading as a collection of short stories; 2000’s Survivor unfolds in reverse—while retaining his flair for sketching reprehensible antiheroes with the faintest glimmer of humanity.
Palahniuk renders brief, punchy narratives that demand attention; Rant, in particular, isn’t a book to be consumed at leisure. Relying on interviews with those who met the mythic Buster “Rant” Casey during his brief, violent life, a portrait of a tortured, confused martyr emerges—or seems to, anyway. It’s not giving much away to reveal that Rant is infected with a potent strain of rabies and prone to freely sharing his sickness. The concept of a homegrown bioterrorist, an all-American “patient zero,” is merely an opening salvo in what becomes a misanthropic thrill ride, culminating in a temporally dislodged religious fervor.
Evoking J.G. Ballard’s Crash and Philip K. Dick’s cyberpunk dystopias, Palahniuk also cribs from future-shock films like Strange Days and eXistenZ, dour examinations of life in a brave new world. Rant flirts with government-mandated genocide, Greek tragedy, aberrant sexuality, substance abuse and audacious fusions of religion and violence, stitching together disparate elements to craft a surreal, poignant and darkly humorous quilt of madness.
Much of the book’s emotional potency stems from one of Palahniuk’s enduring thematic fascinations: the almost pathological need for his characters to feel something—anything—in their modern, anesthetized existences. Choke‘s protagonist, Victor Mancini, faked asphyxiation in restaurants to meet people, for example, while Rant’s hobby is Party Crashing, a brutal form of socialization that involves vicious auto collisions.
Rant may too strongly recall Fight Club for some, but Palahniuk has more on his mind here than simple titillation. A white-knuckled what-if, Rant is the author’s most idiosyncratic work to date, a piercing plea to push the galactic reset button.