Fiction – hardcover; Jonathan Cape; 336 pages; 2007. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.
Chuck Palahniuk is one of my favourite authors. He has a distinctive, often experimental, style that mixes black humour with scathing satire. The result is often a very funny, completely surreal, rollicking good read. But his new novel — subtitled The Oral History of Buster Casey — fails to deliver the usual offbeat and inspired narrative I have come to expect.
Rant is essentially a story about a now-dead wayward weirdo — Buster L “Rant” Casey — who is responsible for an urban plague of rabies and other “pranks” across America. It is set in a technologically advanced dystopian future in which people are separated into two distinct groups — daytimers and nighttimers. The nighttimers, who come out when it is dark, spend a large proportion of their time Party Crashing. This is a sport in which participants deliberately cause car accidents in a rather destructive and surreal version of a demolition derby.
The book is structured as a series of interviews with people who knew Rant before he killed himself. This forms a rather disjointed oral biography in which a vast array of characters reminisce about Rant’s
short but violent life (he died during a Party Crashing event that was screened live on television), analyse his character flaws and personality, speculate about his motives for committing suicide and debate whether his upbringing was to blame for his bad behaviour.
This mock-documentary treatment is a brave and interesting twist on Palahniuk’s usual temporal (told backwards) narrative style, but in my opinion I don’t think it truly works. It comes across as too disjointed and too bitty to build up any narrative flow so that it was a very real struggle to turn the pages.
While Palahniuk introduces some interesting and often hilarious concepts — I love that Party Crashers recognise each other by dressing their cars with “Just Married” paraphernalia whileparticipants wear bridal gowns — the novel’s flawed structure is a major distraction. This is a shame, because Rant makes some important points about contemporary society, including our obsession with fame, video games and materialism, just to name a few.
If you have not read a Palahniuk novel before, I would not suggest starting with this one, if only because I think it lacks narrative drive. But all the others in his back catalogue — many of which are reviewed on this site — are definitely worth pursuing.