A rabid new novel from "Fight Club" author Palahniuk

By Colin Williams

Let me begin by stating two things. First of all, like many others at Macalester, I liked Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel “Fight Club.” The book functions as a gritty nihilistic call to arms, and since it is the first example of Palahniuk’s published work and the first one many read, it seems fresh in its approach to writing. Secondly, however, I began to read Palahniuk’s 2003 book “Diary” and I hated it. I didn’t even finish. It was gratuitous and silly and, though not as graphic as some of the author’s other works in terms of violence, it was unnecessarily grotesque and pretty unconvincing.This being said, I didn’t quite know what to expect from Palahniuk’s latest release, “Rant.” The story is set up as an oral biography of Buster “Rant” Casey, a fictional small-town kid with a ridiculous sense of smell and the bizarre habit of willingly being bitten by all kinds of poisonous animals. Through the many “interviews” with the people in Rant’s life, it is revealed fairly quickly that he is responsible for something of a rabies epidemic, and that he is dead.

One of the stranger points of the novel is its being set in the seemingly not-to-distant future, where most people have ports on the back of their necks to “boost peaks,” which is an all-senses-go replacement for movies and TV. People in this future are, for reasons of traffic and overcrowding, separated into “daytimers” and “nighttimers,” who can only venture out at their designated time. In addition, many nighttimers participate in a weird kind of sport called “party crashing,” where decorated cars drive around and smash into each other for fun. And this is where Rant eventually gets his kicks-party crashing with a ragtag group of people, one of whom is a prostitute with a crippled arm who becomes his girlfriend.

Sound weird yet?

It gets even stranger-without ruining the ending, I will tell you that much of the final quarter or so of the book deals heavily with time travel, and things get kind of spacey as people find ways to mess with the past.

The book is more solidly written than I would have expected. The oral biography style helps make the book interesting, and Palahniuk is decidedly on his game with the flow of the narrative, keeping the reader guessing without being obnoxious and drawn out. The plot remains relatively strong despite a few digressions. The ongoing rabies epidemic also helps keep things flowing, though it actually plays less of a role than party crashing. In addition, despite its futuristic location, the novel is relatively unhampered by the unnecessary technological details which plague many science fiction works. “Rant” was apparently intended as the first of a futuristic trilogy by Palahniuk, but the setting actually serves to dampen Palahniuk’s use of a violent and gory present by giving him something to focus on besides violence, fighting, and sex.

Positives aside, the novel is still quite Palahniuk, and has a good deal of those little vulgar or just weird details that permeate his other books (although it doesn’t bog the plot down quite as much as in, say, “Diary”). For example, Rant’s nickname was apparently derived from the sound of people vomiting as a result of one of his childhood pranks. Not to mention that he can figure out what his girlfriend ate during the past three days via oral sex. More importantly, the characters all sound the same as the narrators of his other novels. The title is apt-the characters rant and swear, excepting only the few who are exaggerated enough to break the mold. Unfortunately, this tends to result in them being flatter than the already flat characters being interviewed. Most people involved either read like Palahniuk the intellect, Palahniuk the badass, or a stereotype of the slovenly everybodies Palahniuk seems to hate. There’s not a lot to work with besides.

There were moments when I thought I was going to hate this book and moments I thought I was really going to like it, but the ultimately convoluted plot and the character problems kind of held me back from feeling very strongly either way. In the end, the book ends up as a welcome departure from Palahniuk’s other writing but not a great enough one to alienate his fans or pacify his critics. One thing I can say for certain is that “Rant” manages to be weird. This is not a novel that will leave you bored, but I would recommend waiting for the paperback unless you’re a serious Palahniuk enthusiast.