April 27, 2007

“Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey” by Chuck Palahniuk

Reviewed by Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times

Journalists often lift technique from novelists, and sometimes novelists return the compliment by imitating the documentary style of nonfiction.

In “Rant,” Chuck Palahniuk adopts the oral biography format used by George Plimpton for “Truman Capote” and Jean Stein for “Edie” in his study of Buster Casey, a “naturopathic serial killer.” This style, you would think, might lend an air of authenticity to the story. Instead, Palahniuk’s eighth novel is a high-minded version of “South Park.”

Palahniuk, the author of “Fight Club,” is arguably the most popular underground writer working today, if you can call a best-selling author underground. His fans will no doubt appreciate his latest, which includes all his signature declarations on disease, destruction, sex and death.

Buster “Rant” Casey has died, apparently, and his friends, family, and various unreliable narrators comment in punchy, alternating passages. Slowly we learn about Rant’s weird childhood, his freakish relationship with pain and insects, and how he left his small town and moved to the big city where he hooked up with the Party Crashers — people who ram cars into each other to remind themselves they’re alive.

The book is set in a William Gibson style cyber-fiction future that is fully imagined and designed to reflect the consumerist present. The multiple-narrator format allows Palahniuk to philosophize on nearly every subject that vexes modern life, and he does.

This is what draws fans to Palahniuk. There is nothing exceptional about his prose or plotting, but his voice is truly unique. He writes at the edge of crazy, and you can feel his desperate urge to get at the truth of things, even if he is not sure where the truth lies and it’s making him nuts. As one his characters says, “There’s plenty of folks who find crazy people attractive.”


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