Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey
Chuck Palahniuk, 2007
Rant takes the form of a (fictional) oral history of Buster “Rant” Casey, in which an assortment of friends, enemies, admirers, detractors, and relations have their say on this evil character, who may or may not be the most efficient serial killer of our time
Buster Casey was every small kid born in a small town, searching for real thrills in a world of video games and action/adventure movies. The high school rebel who always wins—and a childhood murderer?—Rant Casey escapes from his hometown of Middleton into the big city and becomes the leader of an urban demolition derby called Party Crashing, where, on designated nights, the participants recognize each other by dressing their cars with tin-can tails, "Just Married" toothpaste graffiti, and other refuse, then look for special markings in order to stalk and crash into each other. It’s in this violent, late-night hunting game that Casey makes three friends. And after his spectacular death, these friends gather the testimony needed to build an oral history of his short life. Their collected anecdotes explore the charges that his saliva infected hundreds, causing a silent, urban plague of rabies.
Expect hilarity, horror, and blazing insight into the desperate and surreal contemporary human condition as only Chuck Palahniuk can deliver it. He’s the postmillennial Jonathan Swift, the man to watch to learn what’s, uh-oh, coming next. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—February 21, 1962
• Where—Pasco, Washington, USA
• Education—B.A., University of Oregon
• Currently—lives in Portland, Oregon
Readers of Chuck Palahniuk's novels must gird themselves for the bizarre, the violent, the macabre, and the just plain disturbing. Having done that, they can then just enjoy the ride.
The story goes that Palahniuk wrote Fight Club out of frustration. Believing that his first submission to publishers (an early version of Invisible Monsters) was being rejected as too risky, he decided to take the gloves off, so to speak, and wrote something he never expected to see the light of day. Ironically, Fight Club was accepted for publication, and its subsequent filming by directory David Fincher earned the author an obsessive cult following.
The apocalyptic, blackly humorous story of a loner's entanglement with a charismatic but dangerous underground leader, Fight Club was the first in a series of controversial fiction that would keep Palahniuk in the spotlight. Since then, he has crafted strange, disturbing tales around unlikely subjects: a disfigured model bent on revenge (the revised Invisible Monsters) ... the last surviving member of a death cult (Survivor) ... a sex addict who resorts to a bizarre restaurant scam to pay the bills (Choke) ... a lethal African nursery rhyme (Lullaby) ... and so the list continues.
Although Palahniuk makes occasional forays into nonfiction, (e.g., Fugitives and Refugees and Stranger than Fiction), it is his novels that generate the most buzz. His outre plots and jump-cut storytelling are definitely not for everyone—some have likened them to the horrible accident you can't tear your eyes away from—but even critics can't help but be impressed by his flair for language, his talent for satire, and his sheer originality. Newsday wrote, "Palahniuk is one of the freshest, most intriguing voices to appear in a long time. He rearranges Vonnegut's sly humor, DeLillo's mordant social analysis, and Pynchon's antic surrealism (or is it R. Crumb's?) into a gleaming puzzle palace all his own."
Palahniuk has said that he has heard a lot from readers who were never readers before they saw his books, from boys in schools where his books are banned. This might be the best evidence that Palahniuk is a writer for a new age, introducing a (mostly male) audience to worlds on the page that usually only exist in technicolor nightmares.
From a 2004 Barnes & Noble interview:
• Palahniuk (pronounced paul-a-nik) worked as a diesel mechanic for a trucking company before he became an author, jotting story notes for The Fight Club under trucks he was supposed to be working on.
• Palahniuk's family has had a sad history of violence: His grandfather killed his grandmother and then committed suicide; later in life, his divorced father was murdered in 1999 by a girlfriend's ex-husband. The killer was convicted and sentenced to death in October, 2001. Palahniuk's book, Choke, was driven by an attempt to look at how sexual compulsion can destroy.
• When not working on his novels, Palahniuk has written features for Gear magazine, through which he befriended shock rocker Marilyn Manson. While writing, Palahniuk has said he listens to Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and Radiohead.
• To a reader who asked in a Barnes & Noble.com chat why the novel Invisible Monsters was not released in hardcover, Palahniuk responded: "My original request was not to have any of my books released as hardcovers because I felt guilty asking for over $20 for anything I had done. With Invisible Monsters I finally got my way."
• Invisible Monsters was inspired by fashion magazines Palahniuk was reading at his laundromat, according to an interview with the Village Voice. "I love the language of fashion magazines. Eighteen adjectives and you find the word sweater at the end. 'Ethereal. Sacred.' I thought, Wouldn't it be fun to write a novel in this fashion magazine language, so packed with hyperbole?"
•When asked what book most influenced his career as a writer, here is his response:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It showed me how to write a "hero" story by using an apostle as the narrator. Really, it's the basis of the triangle of two men and one woman in my book, Fight Club. I read the book at least once a year and it continues to surprise me with layers of emotion.
(Bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)
Mr. Palahniuk doesn't write for tourists. He writes for hard-core devotees drawn to the wild, angry imagination on display and the taboo-busting humor.
New York Times
One of the most feverish imaginations in American letters.... More than your weekly prescribed dose of humor and humanity, cleverness and outrage.
Brilliant...extremely fun.... With his love of contemporary fairytales that are gritty and dirty rather than pretty, Palahniuk is the likeliest inheritor of Vonnegut's place in American writing.
San Francisco Chronicle
Palahniuk is no Studs Terkel, but Terkel's heartland probably looks more like Palahniuk's nowadays. —Keir Graff
Buster Casey, destined to live fast, die young and murder as many people as he can, is the rotten seed at the core of Palahniuk's comically nasty eighth novel (after Haunted; Lullaby; Diary; etc.). Set in a future where urbanites are segregated by strict curfews into Daytimers and Nighttimers, the narrative unfolds as an oral history comprising contradictory accounts from people who knew Buster. These include childhood friends horrified by the boy's macabre behavior (getting snakes, scorpions and spiders to bite him and induce instant erections; repeatedly infecting himself with rabies), policemen and doctors who had dealings with the rabies "superspreader"; and Party Crashers, thrill-seeking Nighttimers who turn city streets into demolition derby arenas. After liberally infecting his hometown peers with rabies, Buster hits the big city and takes up with the Party Crashers. A series of deaths lead to a police investigation of Buster (long-since known as "Rant"—the sound children make while vomiting) that peaks just as Buster apparently commits suicide in a blaze of car-crash glory. This dark religious parable (there's even a resurrection) from the master of grotesque excess may not attract new readers, but it will delight old ones.
Viciously incisive and lethally funny social commentary in a novel cast as an oral biography. Palahniuk's latest (Haunted, 2005, etc.) provides a parody of the oral biography format (Edie, Capote), offers homage to both James Dean and J.G. Ballard's Crash and serves to show just how much teenage angst has degenerated since the innocence of Holden Caulfield—all this before a time-warped finale that turns genealogy into some sort of Mobius strip. Though his voice appears minimally in the narrative, the hero (or is he?) of the novel is Buster (or Buddy) "Rant" Casey, who lives a short life of escalating destruction just to be able to do something, feel something and escape from the rural town that is living death to those who don't manage to leave it. A boy of peculiarly (even mystically) sensual intuition, he initially amuses himself by seeking bites from various animals and insects, launching a rabies epidemic as he passes his infections along through sexual encounters. With his move to the bigger city, he attracts a posse of "Party Crashers," joy riders who spend their evenings in wedding attire crashing into each others' vehicles. One crash kills Rant, who is dead (or is he?) as the novel begins and is eulogized by a Greek chorus of friends, neighbors, relatives and enemies, along with an eyewitness reporter for DRVR Radio Graphic Traffic and an historian whose involvement in the proceedings sustains a mystery through much of the novel. Many of the themes in the author's exploration of the dark underbelly of modern life and culture will be familiar to his ardent fans, but the formal inventiveness of the fictional oral biography provides a fresh twist. Not for everyone, but readers who like to walk on the novelist's wild side will rave.
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:
Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Rant:
1. Are you a Chuck Palahniuk fan or not? If this is your first foray into his strange world, is he too funny to put down...or too macabre to enjoy? Or both?
2. Palahniuk always his sets his sights on a wider world than his fictional one. What is he taking aim at in this book?
3. What is Rant's problem? Why is he addicted to spider bites or car crashes...or any of this other violent behaviors? What is he searching for? Or is he at heart a nihilist?
4. Talk about the humor, the dark humor, in this book. What parts do you find especially funny, or maybe sardonic would be a better term.
5. Is Rant dead?
6. Why would Palahniuk portray his character through such widely divergent viewpoints? In what way are the accounts of Rant contradictory?
7. Talk about the phrase "boosting peaks" and how it applies to the process of reading this work.
8. What about Wallace Boyer, the car salesman? In what way is he a stand-in for Palahniuk?
9. Are you satisfied with the ending? Did you pick up on clues as you were reading...or did you have to go back and find them afterward?
10. What other books have you read by Palahniuk? If so, how does this one compare? (By the way, what about Rant's reference to Fight Club?) If you haven't read any other works, does this one inspire you to do so?
(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)
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