What more can you say in a review of any Palahniuk book, but that the man pays so much attention to the details of the structure of his stories. Rant comes together in layers and pieces, almost like a star condensing and coming full form through the swirling addition of hydrogen and helium, each revolution bringing more definition, more shape, and giving the reader clues as to what the heck it is going to be.
Rant Casey is a pretty boring small town kid, whose off-color antics get him a lot of attention. The story begins almost like it's going to be a small town to big city type of story and then goes in a completely different genre, narrative and even metaphysical direction involving time-travel, epidemiology, anthropology and folklore. Without giving away the plot too much, it's interesting to note the layers Palahniuk uses in the crafting of this particular tale. The idea of the "liminal" is huge in the story and almost every sub-plot and sub-system discussed involve stories of transition, descriptions of transition, or transitions in setting. The imagery and symbol of this liminality is prevalent throughout the work, on almost every page, from the discussion of werewolves (humans who become wolves) and its subsequent link to the discussion of rabies ( a disease incidentally prevalent in dogs) and disease spreaders in general, the discussion of grandfather paradox (a time-traveler's discussion on how we come into existence period), how societies are formed from the common acceptance of lies and stories, how people become "nighttimers," and so on and so on. To this end, Palahniuk plays up the division between night and day, and discusses the idea of segregation and the achievement of those who break down barriers between worlds, lifestyles, etc. Rant Casey is built to be just such a figure, and as such he fits into the common human mythology of all such figures, with his one-liners and his sayings collected by a set of devoted followers and even detractors. The novel itself is organized almost like a bible, with eyewitness accounts of mysterious happenings that sometimes contradict one another, but somehow must resolve itself into truth. I think this is a huge intellectual achievement, but at the same time, probably the point where Chuck P. loses a lot of his audience.
Essentially, Rant is a story about what we choose to become. Present as ever are Palahniuk's usual social criticisms of American culture's focus on materialism and consumption, but in a very much less straight-forward kind of way. Instead of the bitter, angry resentment of such culture seen in novels like Fight Club, or in Pygmy, Palahniuk instead focuses on the difficulty of detaching ourselves from the confines of such a culture. Rant's world is full of people who consume, to the point where they are permanently jacked-in to consume other people's experiences, senses, lives and adventures. This is a clever, but simple form of hyperbole. Modern American's (including myself) are consumed with consuming. Many of us are constantly consuming media: movies, books, music, to the point where we cease to live our own lives and adventures and choose instead to live vicariously through others, real or imagined. This in itself is a form of disease, a psychosis that patients, people, become loathe to get rid of. Think of people being given the choice to stay in the Matrix or to get out of it. Rant is very similar in that respect, but on a deeper metaphysical level. Yes there is a criticism of the consumption culture, but also of the idea of a consumption life. Imagery abounds in the novel as do points of intersection where characters are given the choice to "live forever" and continue to consume life, to take a step out of their culture, their lives and into another.
Perhaps this is why the novel held my attention where others on goodreads reported being bored. Especially in the summer, when I have more free time to myself. I often find myself in a hectic frenzy to "catch-up" on my reading, or tv shows or movies, often-times at the expense of just hanging out, going for a walk or doing something productive, like writing something of my own instead of consuming something, however brilliant, written by someone else. I think that this is not altogether uncommon, but often people lack the time or willingness to examine it as such. How many of us are crippled by an overwhelming compulsion, culturally or societally, or innately imposed, to just keep consuming instead of making something for ourselves that will last beyond our own lives? I think the number is diminishing. And I think that's what Rant is about. Social criticism in the vein of Fight Club has been cliche since Palahniuk broke ground with it, and elements of it remain in Rant (what else is Party Crashing but a way to go against the grain and refuse to drink the kool-aid?). Rant takes it a step forward with a plan for change.
This book definitely bears re-reading. In fact, I'm sure Palahniuk would laugh his ass off at this review and say look again, you saw the island and missed the continent. This is a good book, but it requires patience and a willingness to see a little bit of Shot Dunyan in all of us.
I think all of the characters except for Rant Casey himself are pretty interesting, thus 4 stars out of 5. Then again, maybe the story isn't about Rant Casey at all.... I think everyone, at least in American culture, can recognize a little bit of Shot Dunyan or Green Simms in us all.