Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rant - Chuck Palahniuk

After Survivor, and now Rant, I find myself on a quest to read all of Chuck Palahniuk's books from the library. Is Rant as good as Survivor or Fight Club? It definitely does not appear that way at first, but by its end it reveals itself to be the most inventive thing I have read by him yet. I would agree with a couple other reviews I have read of the book that refer to it as being more "sci-fi." It doesn't appear that way at first, with all of the countryish backwoods elementary-level grammar spoken by the characters at the beginning, but by its end, the story has completely mutated into something else that is at once far more compelling and equally absurd. But there are a few things you need to know about it before you go and check it out of your local library:

1) It is an oral history. The only other book I've read in this format is Please Kill Me, which was excellently done--but which I personally find to be something of a cop-out as a writer of fiction. That is, your "book" is really just a lot of different people's memories. That said, a wide divergence of remembrance is perhaps more authoritative than a single author's imagination. Also, a single author doesn't do the work of personally going out and interviewing every person connected to a certain subject. They just make it up as they go along. In the opening page, Palahniuk gives his own warning about the format of the book:

"Author's Note: This book is written in the style of an oral history, a form which requires interviewing a wide variety of witnesses and compiling their testimony. Anytime multiple sources are questioned about a shared experience, it's inevitable for them occasionally to contradict each other. For additional biographies written in this style, please see Capote by George Plimpton, Edie by Jean Stein, and Lexicon Devil by Brendan Mullen."

2) Boosted Peaks and Party Crashing are two of the most important aspects to understand. When one of the major contributors, Shot Dunyan, explains Boosted Peaks, Rant picks up a bit more speed and reveals the second of its several layers. Boosted Peaks are the form of entertainment for the future, rendering books and movies obsolete. Humans are implanted with a switch on the back of their neck that allows them to record their experiences, with all five senses included, and to later sell them to retail stores where they can be rented and experienced by other people. Instead of watching a movie, you live a movie, in essence. There are also other ways to manipulate the "neural transcripts," such as taking acid while experiencing one, and then re-wiring it through one's own experience.

Party Crashing is the practice of decorating a car (for either a "Wedding Night" with "just married" decorations dragging behind a car, a "Tree Night" with a Christmas tree tied to the top, a "Mattress Night" with a mattress tied to the top, or "Student Driver Night" with a student driver sign) with flags as the night calls for, recruiting a team to ride in the car, and roaming the freeways looking for other teams of players to bump against other cars, cause accidents, and stage disputes on the side of the road after a crash. One memorable paragraph about the seemingly cathartic effects of Party Crashing follows as thus:

"From the Field Notes of Green Taylor Simms: Beginning with Santa Claus 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.
The greatest consensus in modern society is our traffic system. The way a flood of strangers can interact, sharing a path, almost all of them traveling without incident. It only takes one dissenting driver to create anarchy." (130)

The main character in this book is Rant Casey, who has a strange experience involving his grandmother's death by a Black Widow spider, who is told by his "real father" where to find ancient coins worth untold millions of dollars, and who is eventually maltreated to the degree that he literally gets off on sticking his arms down burrowing animal holes for the animals to bite his arms, giving him rabies. Rabies become another major concern in this novel, as the great epidemic of the future.

The society depicted in this book is also notable, though it is not understood until other practices like Boosted Peaks and Party Crashing are. There are Daytimers and Nighttimers, with half of society spending the usual 8 AM to 8 PM, outside, at school, at their jobs, and the other half of society out between 8 PM and 8 AM. There is the I-SEE-U apparatus which has effectively taken over as the governing element of society, and it is not hard to consider Rant, published in 2007, a response to the changing shape of American operations post 9/11.

Eventually Rant Casey gets out of his high school with a $10,000 check and a diploma without graduating for reasons I can't entirely remember and then goes off to live in the City, where one night he meets Echo Lawrence, Green Taylor Simms, and Shot Dunyan on the side of the road after they throw out Tina Something. He joins their posse and the next large portion of the book is an extremely thorough examination of all aspects to Party Crashing. But eventually, one of the people they allow to "Mercy Crash" them, Neddy Nelson, eventually says in one of his testimonies that Party Crashing is not quite as dumb and simple as it seems, that people are doing it more than just for the fun of getting bumped around in cars.

There are a few dozen witnesses in Rant and each of them is given their own distinct personality and voice. While the book takes a while to get started, by its end there is no less compelling material than Survivor or Fight Club. Some might believe the ending goes a little too far off the cliff, but all of the testimony surrounding it combines to create a wholly believable reality. It may be a bit far-fetched, the way things end up getting explained, but it's nothing a reader will struggle against believing, or wanting to believe. Basically, if you pick up this book, and get through the first hundred pages, and start feeling like it's going nowhere, just give it a little more patience. It's far more intelligently designed than it seems.

1 comment:

Tim said...

A great summation of the book. Many of the concepts will catch you off guard the first time you read it. You'll find yourself asking, "did I read that correctly?" You just won't expect to find what you'll find. There is even a scene that is reminiscent of what a zombie outbreak might look like. Make sure you have an open mind and are patient. I'm almost finished with this book. I can't wait to see how all the chaos will end.