Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Rant, Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck is BACK!

Using a device called the "oral biography," the story is told from the first-person perspective of many people who had some sort of contact with the main character, Buster Landru Casey, AKA "Rant". This lends itself most often to feeling as though you are listening to a radio documentary. As though someone interviewed hundreds of people one at a time, getting his or her entire version of Rant's story, then edited it together in a (more or less) chronological timeline. The voices stay fairly consistent and believable, though the reader must at times let go of the thoughts that some of these characters couldn't possibly know all that they now share about Rant's life, especially when they re-tell his childhood.

The reader gets to know the characters through their voices, through what they say as opposed to an external narrator explaining it all for you. Much in the way we experience people in everyday interactions, especially as we increase communication that is very self-centered and one-sided with e-mails, forum posts, bulletins, and of course, blogs. You judge based on word choices, sentence structure, and content. It isn't so easy to know who's the bad guy and who's the good guy. Sometimes what you think of a person based on what they say is flipped around later on by something else that comes out of the mouth.

The story itself progresses at an unstoppable pace. Impossible to put down, it still requires you to pay ever closer attention to the story being told or else you won't understand what's being told. This considering the casual use of terms foreign to us, but well-understood to the world within Rant: "Party Crashing" "flags" "tagging" "Daytimer" "Nighttimer" "boosting a peak" "neural transcripts". When the story starts turning sci-fi in technology, the reader has to start piecing together references from much earlier in the book and slow down, pay attention, read carefully in order to understand what happens. Think about what it was like for Neo to have to understand what the Matrix really was while experiencing it firsthand.

Since I have a bit of an obsession with names, I have to give a nod to the fabulous names in this book: Echo Lawrence, Shot Dunyon, Bacon Carlyle, Canada Mercer, Phoebe Truffeau, Green Taylor Simms, Symon Praeger, Carlo Tiengo, Lynn Coffee, and the list goes on. The names are ingenius, inventive, original and I envy whatever neurons snap into the right places to come up with such fun uses of the alphabet.

Then there is Palahniuk's tendency to describe in detail bodily functions, bad habits and people unafraid to harm themselves in unique ways. But, unlike Haunted which seemed to want to be as disgusting as possible, causing you to flinch so much that your muscles were probably strained while reading, in Rant Palahniuk returns to the more stylized grotesque so familiar to readers of nearly every single one of his previous books. He describes what should be so gross as to make you express yourself aloud, but yet he makes it easy to swallow while still squirming a little and laughing to yourself in disgust, as opposed to being a complete turn-off. Then he takes one particularly awful event, describing it in the sort of detail that makes you squirm precisely because of its innate awfulness and does so with sensitivity and even respect.

Set for a May 1 release, Rant is classic Palahniuk with sensory overload, critical riffs on society & government, gross oddities, not too disturbing violence and a smart, imaginative exploration of culture. Always trying on different storytelling devices, characters and voices; Palahniuk isn't afraid to stray far off the beaten track in terms of contemporary fiction. His latest novel is no different. This time he goes even further to mine the sources and structures of mythologies - those tales that have been the backbone of every religion, every culture since the dawn of time.

The questions he raises are sometimes answered, but mostly aren't and lead to only more complicated queries. And that's okay, the answers aren't what this book is about. With each chapter, you realize that the present era is being stood on its head to give a look not at today, but a speculative journey off into the future today. Yes, I meant that to sound obfuscated. To quote Rant Casey: "The future you have tomorrow won't be the same future you had yesterday."

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