Reading Chuck Palahniuk's Rant: An Oral Biography Of Buster Casey is a bit like trying to listen to someone with hiccups tell five stories at once. A novel disguised as an oral history, Rant emerges from the points of view of dozens of characters, most of whom only take center stage for a paragraph or even a sentence at a time; the constant perspective switches form a hitching, jerky story with no forward momentum and a lot of seemingly random detail. Add in Palahniuk's sly tendency to reveal his dystopian science-fiction future only one oblique fragment at a time, and the entire book becomes an abstract mosaic where readers have to do much of the work to first detect, then interpret the final picture.
On a macro level, Rant is the history of Buster "Rant" Casey, a small-town ne'er-do-well ostensibly responsible for a nationwide outbreak of rabies. He's dead when the book begins, so his story emerges from friends, family, neighbors, and other concerned figures, all of whom Palahniuk introduces with a little sun or moon symbol and short descriptions that only gradually become clear. Opinions on Rant vary, but they all spring from lunatic images tied into Palahniuk's love of grotesquerie, from Rant's obsession with poisonous-animal bites as sexual stimulant to his ability to identify his entire community by the "pussy prints" on their garbage-escaped sanitary pads to the way his mother purposely filled the food she cooked with tacks, glass, and tin foil to make people concentrate fully on meals.
Rant's loopy, tortured narrative path can be a hard slog, except for puzzle-lovers patient enough to wait for all the pieces to cohere. In typical Palahniuk form, the book is so crammed with factoids, ideas, black-humor satire, and conceptions for our future that many of his concepts—for instance, the fascinating Strange Days-like "peak" technology, which lets people record their experiences for later entertainment consumption—get unsatisfyingly brief, tangential treatment. On the few brief occasions when he leaves behind his hydra-headed cast of characters and lets one voice speak out for a full chapter, the sudden dose of clarity (and narrative progression) is a tremendous relief. Otherwise, Rant feels much like other Palahniuk novels, from Fight Club to Diary to Lullaby—intermittently brilliant, frequently headachy, obsessed with lonely outsiders and misfits looking for satisfaction, and unlikely to offer such a satisfaction to anyone but the author's many ardent fans.