Palahniuk’s ‘Rant’ is gruesome and wild

becky.korpi and becky.korpi

No matter where you are, there’s always a hopeless town closeby. Full of lazy hicks with missing teeth and farm property that stretches past the horizon. These are the places you drive past quickly on the way to somewhere better, the dying towns that everybody whispers about and have no conceivable future.

With “Rant,” the latest brainchild from author Chuck Palahniuk (“Fight Club”), you have no choice but to spend about 300 pages in a similar town named Middleton. And not only that — you’re also going to get to know the locals pretty well, especially the Casey family.

Every town has its village idiot, and for Middleton (no state is given) it’s Buster “Rant” Casey. The child of an emotionless father and a submissive mother, Casey is reckless, rude and just plain stupid. At a young age he develops an addiction to animal and insect venom, sticking his arms and legs into holes in the ground for the sole purpose of getting bitten.

As a result he is usually infected with rabies, and the surreal world that Palahniuk creates makes it possible for Casey to spread the sickness and turn it into a nationwide epidemic.

But that isn’t all that made Casey a legend. He is also remembered for raising Middleton’s inflation, starting a boner revolution in high school and dying in a literal blaze of glory.

“Rant” is structured unconventionally; instead of proper prose about a set of characters, Palahniuk lets the characters speak for themselves. The novel is a series of individual interviews between an omniscient person and each character, all of them discussing the life of Casey. Everyone from his childhood friends to those that witnessed his death step in to contribute their memories and speculations, some putting him on a pedestal and others maintaining that he was a complete waste to society. But Palahniuk is careful to keep the perspectives balanced, allowing the reader to decide for him or herself whether to like Casey or not.

Those familiar with Palahniuk’s work or who have at least seen the film adaptation of “Fight Club” know that he is not afraid to be vulgar. In heavy detail and merciless language, Palahniuk not only brings you to some places you’d rather not be, he also rubs your face in them so you smell and feel the texture of everything. Those who cannot stomach rape scenes and maxi pads caught on a barbed wire fence need not apply.

Palahniuk also has a penchant for throwing in random facts that are not explained anywhere in the text. Halfway into “Rant,” the reader learns that the people in this book have “ports” attached to the backs of their necks that allow them to input and output various experiences. There is no background offered about this; the reader is simply expected to accept it and move on. Is this story set in a bleak, distant future? What happened in this society? I considered this to be a decent-sized hole in the plot, but Palahniuk didn’t seem to think plugging it was necessary.

I have never read anything like “Rant.” Seeing an author create such uncivilized, bottom of the food chain characters on purpose is something I have not previously experienced. They’re so skeezy and worthless to society, and the scary thing is they’re so realistic they could actually exist.

One big strike against this book is a big similarity to “Fight Club.” After moving to a big city, Casey joins an activity known as “party crashing,” which is pretty much a fight club with cars. It adds an intense flavor to “Rant,” but Palahniuk has written about this kind of thing before, and too much of it will make his work predictable.