Book Review : Chuck Palahniuk - Rant (2007)
* a suggestion from Ryan Bracha *
Chuck Palahniuk is a literary superstar and perhaps the most successful cult author working today. Everybody is debating the latter with me but outside of Fight Club, which literally changed the world, his novels have mainly been read by a dedicated and passionate fanbase and created a subculture of its own. Palahniuk's website is even named The Cult. Many of his fans claim Rant was the last good novel he wrote, though. Is that true? He wrote a book every year since then, including the graphic novel followup to Fight Club which I quite liked. I've had the opportunity to re-read Rant this month and see for myself whether Chuck Palahniuk's work was better or not a decade ago.
So, Rant is the oral biography of Buster "Rant" Casey, a fictional, larger-than-life underworld figure involved in an urban demotion derby game called party crashing and patient zero of a rabies outbreak that's been decimating America. Casey violently dies on national television during a party crashing event and becomes somewhat of an urban legend, prompting questions about both his spectacular life and death. The novel follows Rant's life from early childhood in a small town called Middleton up to the big city antic that made him famous. There are 56 characters interviewed and they don't all know one another. Some don't even talk about Rant, so it's not the kind of novel where you can zone out for a couple pages.
There's a lot of cool, Palahnuik-esque material in Rant, so I'm not surprised it's a fan favorite. The symbolism of stray dogs for example. There is a pack of stray dogs roaming around Middleton and their howling turns domestic dogs wild. It makes them forget their own name as Palahniuk puts it. This is echoed in the novel in the party crashers, a literal pack of wild people, who forsake the rules of society every night. There is a theological vibe to Rant, which was also very cool. Chuck Palahniuk establishes a parallel between urban legends and religious figures through Rant Casey's mysterious death and the speculations surrounding it. It's subtle, it doesn't call attention to itself but it's weaved into the fabric of this novel. While Rant first introduces itself as a realistic story, it gradually drifts away from that perception.
I liked Rant better than the first time I've read it, but revisiting this novel made me remember why I was never crazy about it. It's way too fragmented. I don't usually mind fragmented narratives, but Chuck Palahniuk overdid it. Rant is sometimes fragmented for the hell of it. There is an entire chapter featuring rabies experts talking about the history of the disease, sometimes you follow a group of people and a couple paragraphs later you follow another. It becomes somewhat of a tedious task to keep up with everything that's going on. Palahniuk always like to include snippets about various subjects in his novel. For example, in Fight Club, it's bomb recipes. I always liked that about him, but it goes in every direction here and makes Rant more tedious to read.
Rant is a good book. It's undeniably flawed but it's enjoyable. I wouldn't call it a great book, though and especially not Chuck Palahniuk's last great novel. It has been optioned by James Franco himself in 2014, which is recipe for disaster but a leaner, more streamlined version of Rant may turn out to be a good thing. While he would make a terrific Rant Casey himself, I'm not sure Franco is the man for the job from a directing standpoint. There are probably many Chuck Palahniuk novels you could read before this one: Fight Club, Survivor or Diary to name a few, but if you're into his work and want to go the extra mile, Rant is both satisfying and frustrating, depending on which page you're on. It's a novel that only true fans will read, appreciate and discuss ten years after its release.