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July 12, 2007 |

By Miscellaneous | Books | July 12, 2007 |

Last weekend I attended a 4th of July bash in rural Pennsylvania. I ate delicious food, witnessed illegal fireworks, talked my head off and drank copious amounts of beer. However, in the midst of all the down-home goodness, I couldn’t help but think about rabies, car crashes, statutory rape, time travel, the Grandfather Paradox and whether it’s possible to determine what a man does for a living by the taste and/or smell of his semen. I blame Chuck Palahniuk for this icky mental mile and I blame him hard.

Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant is the fictional biography of serial killin’ Buster “Rant” Casey. I usually like reading about serial killers. Did you know, for instance, that Ted Bundy used to work at a suicide hot line? Or that Gary Leon Ridgeway (“The Green River Killer”) forgot the total number of women he’d murdered? Did you know that Eileen Wuornos skipped her last meal? Or that she requested Natalie Merchant’s “Carnival” to be played at her funeral? Totally true.

While the commercial teaser for Rant suggests a serial killer story, this is no bag-it-tag-it-the-guy’s-a-nut job kind of book. Nor is it a how-to with Colonel Mustard in the study. Instead, Palahniuk’s newest novel chronicles a relatively charming rabies epidemic spread by a backwoods time-traveler who murdered an awful lot of people. The book is also about how much gross the author could cram into 318 pages.

Like a kid repeating overheard expletives because his dumbass Daddy finds it funny, Palahniuk irresponsibly gluts us with gore — in-depth descriptions of sticky biological processes are repeatedly shoehorned into 50-cent metaphors that fall flat. Reading Rant, we are meant to believe that the main character is something of a hillbilly deity. His handicapped paramour Echo Lawrence explains:

He’d come up on his elbows, smacking his lips, his chin dripping, and say, “You ate something with cinnamon for breakfast.” Most guys are keeping score with every lap of their tongue. Every time they come up for air, they’re clocking your pleasure. And, lick for lick, you know it had better balance out with the pleasure you give them back … That’s every guy — except Rant Casey. He’d stick his tongue into you and years could pass. Mountains erode.

Way to sell antihero, Palahniuk.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve already admitted my love for serial killer lore, so I’m all right with (heck, even partial to) overly visceral descriptions. Gross can be good. However, the author’s balls-out attempt to craft a character whose transcendence is charted by superior oral sex skills and rabies immunity somehow escapes my interest. While blow job competency is a worthwhile skill, good — even psychic head — does not a time-traveling antihero make. I don’t care how many orgasms Marla Singer Echo had.

Rant’s story is told posthumously through the twanged-and-slanged voices of anyone who knew, heard of or slept with him. Much like his other protagonists, Palahniuk paints Tyler Durden Rant Casey as something special from day one. Young Buster Casey was christened “Rant” when he replaced harmless grape eyeballs and pasta guts with actual cow parts during a Halloween fright night. Costumed kids got covered in blood, rot and stench and in true Lardass Hogan form, the entire town lost its lunch. The word “rant” supposedly describes the sound of all that … wait for it … upchucking. We also learn that Buster Casey actively sought attacks from poisonous or rabies-carrying creatures. Apparently a rabies high gives you one hell of a boner … before the drooling and the dying, that is.

Palahniuk revels so much in anecdotal antipathy that the plot, which is really quite interesting, becomes a mere footnote to the blinking, neon shit. Seriously, Chuck’s writing style could be passed around freshman lit classes like a not-so-secret recipe: Add one charming sociopath, two cans of creamed societal strife, a heaping tablespoon of Wikipedia and a dollop of LSD. Place ingredients in blender. Hit puree. Drink. Regurgitate: Voila.

So, redneck Rant reckons that time is structured “like a chain link fence.” By literally crashing his car (sans flux capacitor) into humanity’s ticking clock paradigm, he maneuvers himself into a position in which the Grandfather Paradox and Yorick’s skull suddenly have a whole lot in common. And what does our psychopathic pal decide to do with this epic discovery, you ask? Well, Rant decides to go back in time to rape his adolescent grandmother and create a double-stuffed genetic version of his future self. He also hides money and jots down lottery numbers. But mostly he rapes his adolescent grandmother.

Since Rant is written as oral history we are obliged to read repetitive diatribes that can’t do much but awkwardly propel the plot or praise the protagonist. It’s not inappropriate of Palahniuk to do this; after all, the book is about Mr. Casey. Snippets of Rant’s parroted homespun wisdom include, “It’s always rush hour somewheres” and “every family is a regular little cult” or “the first rule of fight club is you…” I mean, “the future you have tomorrow won’t be the same future you have yesterday.” Deep, right? Who needs rabies when you got boner-inducing prose like that? (*violent sarcastic head shake*)

This book is less fictional biography and more masturbatory ode to Palahniuk’s own imagination. But that’s nothing new for him. If you’re already a fan, I’m sure the book will poke and prod all the right pressure points. And if you’re not a fan, those pressure points are probably somewhere near your gag reflex.

Constance Howes is a book critic for Pajiba and a graphic designer living in Philadelphia. Her hobbies include making out and messing shit up. In short, she’s a firecracker. She blogs over at I Love You in the Face.

I Don't Shut Up, I Grow Up and When I Look at You I Throw Up. Then your Grandfather Time Travels around the Corner and He Licks it Up

Rant by Chuck Palahniuk / Constance Howes

Books | July 12, 2007 |

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