I want to talk about Chuck Palahniuk. For those who don't know, I've always said he's my favorite author. He wrote things like Fight Club and Choke, which are both fantastic books and one of which is a fantastic movie. He also recently wrote a book called Rant. If you choose to read any further, you will see details about the ending of the book, so consider yourself warned.
If you haven't read the book, but have any interest at all, it's certainly a departure from his usual writing, if only in a technical sense. The book is written as an oral history, so rather than having one solid story, you've got a bunch of characters talking about their experiences with this person, Buster "Rant" Casey, or even just things they've heard about him. It's an interesting way to tell a story, to be sure. At first, I wasn't sure I'd like it as much, considering Chuck's strongest skill in writing was a strong, unique narrative voice. And it was a little harder to get started off in the story that way... you're not given a lot of information to start you off. All you know from the start is that this guy, he started some kind of plague, and then he died.
That part of the story is pretty much told in the first half of the book, where you hear about how Rant basically becomes addicted to the venom of poisonous animals. The thing they always warn you about in the viagra commercials? That can happen with some kinds of venom, which he kind of becomes dependant upon. As a result of this behavior, he gets bitten by lots of different animals and basically gets super-rabies. Also, he has a ridiculously accute sense of smell, and this is not explained until the end of the book, and barely explained then.
The problem is that Chuck's own writing style works against him in this book. He often gives characters unique ways of saying things. And that's something I like a lot of the time. It's realistic. We all know someone who uses certain words or phrases, and you don't really know why. My dad says "suspicioned" rather than "suspected" quite often. He knows it's not a word. It's just something he says. People talk like that. Throughout the book, sometimes you'll see someone refer to "boosting" or "boosting a peak." It wasn't clear what they meant, so I figured it was a slang term for getting high, or hell, even mountain climbing. What you don't find out until... hell, well past halfway through the book, is that this book takes place in the near future, where everyone has these little ports on the back of their necks, and they plug in these virtual reality-type experiences. I guess it is kind of like getting high. And don't get me wrong, I don't expect a story to be spoon-fed to me, but if I'm writing fiction where a key difference is that people have electronic interfaces installed on their bodies, I would consider it bad storytelling to not mention this fact before it becomes a relevant plot detail.
I could forgive one instance like this. The other thing you don't find out until around the same point in the book is why every person has a sun or a moon next to their names on the page. It turns out society is split into people who work during the day, and people who work during the night. Kind of like now, but government mandated, with a curfew and everything. It's never really clearly explained why. I wish that was the worst of it. Next to each character's name, along with the sun/moon symbol, is a title. Things like Mother, Friend, etc. One particular character was listed as "Historian". I'm going to have to devote a whole other paragraph to this, at least.
The latter half of the book deals with how Rant moves from his quiet small town to the city. There, he gets involved with "Party Crashing," an organized event where people would crash their cars into one another. They would identify themselves with things like student driver signs, coffee cups glued on top of their cars, christmas trees, etc. It was actually kind of clever. What you don't find out until the last few chapters is the whole point of Party Crashing. There is a legend of sorts, that if you are of the proper mindset and get yourself killed while doing this, you are able to travel back in time. Like many things, this is not explained very well. The point is, Rant does it. He didn't die, as we were lead to believe. He, in fact, went back in time. This is where things get complicated.
I mentioned the "Historian" earlier. I, perhaps like you, foolishly assumed this meant he was a person who studied history. What this actually means, very specifically in the book's terminology, is that he was able to crash a car, go back in time, and kill one of his ancestors, which makes him immortal. Just accept it and move on, you'll sleep better. The thing is, not only did this guy kill his great-great-grandfather, he then knocked up his great-great-grandmother. Then he disappears for a while, and does the same thing to his great grandmother. And so on. Apparently, the point is to somehow make a more "powerful" version of himself. The result is Rant. Rabies boy. Don't even bother thinking about how it makes no sense at all. All I've been able to settle on is that the whole idea for the book came from Chuck walking in halfway through Back to the Future and totally misunderstanding things. I swear to god, there's even a part in the book where someone vanishes from a photograph. No awesome guitar playing though. Anyway, back to Rant. He shows up just after the Historian raped his mother, and takes on the role of his own father. He raises himself. The end.
Now there are certainly things about the book that are good. I loved the first half, even though some of it was confusing. The story of Rant's origin was great, really unique, and had all of Chuck's trademark dark humor. I just wish I had stopped reading as soon as Rant moved to the city.
My problem isn't just that it's a bad story, which I fully acknowledge that it is. My problem is that it seems like it was specifically written to be read twice. That works for things like The Usual Suspects. It doesn't work with a book about a guy who gets rabies but ends up being a story about a time-traveling incestuous rapist that has more than a few elements borrowed from his previous books and a much-beloved 80's movie. Choke is still my favorite book of all time, but I have a hard time saying I've got a favorite author without feeling like a mindless devotee.
Aaand I'm spent. Gotta get up at 5:45 in the morning, so I should attempt to get some sleep now. More soon. For reals.