Rant, Chuck Palahniuks's newest book, has been out for a couple of weeks and the overall reviews seem to show the growing schism between his supporters and his detractors. Some say it is too over the top, too gory, too cheap, too desensitized. Some refer to it as a genius work reaching all the way to the sacred through the profane. Most reviews I have had a chance to read, I cannot help but note, refer almost extensively to chapters 1-5, maybe the first thirty to fifty pages. Now, I admit, the sniffing of menstrual fluids is mentioned. Some cow (or is it pig, I honestly forget) feces is mentioned briefly. Spider bites show up. Packs of wild dogs. Used condoms. Some pretty grody stuff, right? Sort of like movies that begin with a graphic sex scene or with over the top violence to set the pace and show what to expect. It seems easy to make snap judgments based on the early chapters.
But this misses the point. Sex toys and pain are part of Chuck's mythos of re-establishing identity, they are colors he likes to paint with, but the books are never about sex toys or menstrual fluid or wounds (maybe about sexual confusion, I'll give them that). According to him, they are often about loners finding a place in a society that made them loners. In every case Palahniuk has fairly graphic medical information given, it is in tandem with a character that is not quite so easy to love but is nevertheless fragile and human.
What is more, in a society where "don't ask, don't tell" is the blanket statement for disease, depression, sexual preference, atheism, urine and a host of other things that humans have to go through, it seems that the first step in rebuilding a society is to find those parts where an old society breaks down and to take advantage of the cracks. Fight clubs were more than violent men, they were a way to find asylum from a social system that hates pain as well as makes snap judgments about people based on their job. The malformed face of Invisible Monsters is something hard to look upon, but no worse than the contrasting scenes with gorgeous models. In some ways, by not being looked upon, the narrator is freer than anyone else is the book.
Rant Casey is the same way. But, chucking (no pun intended) this into a pile with the others, saying it is only about a misfit who fits in by reveling in his misfitism; is to deny that it is also about how people describe themselves when telling someone else's story. Echo Lawrence is talking about Echo Lawrence. Irene Casey is talking about Irene. Green Taylor Simms is trying to help describe the world, but ultimately we find Green Taylor Simms is talking about himself.
This is Chuck's first book to have a complete mythos behind it. Words take on different meanings. Party Crashing is not what you think it is. Little symbols of day and night show up. Discussion of car wrecks seem to take on too much signifigance early on, as do a few other tidbits here or there and you feel confused, left out, which helps to put you in the mindset of a society that is all about where people belong and what rules they know to follow.
Irony is a mainstay of Palahniuk's writings, as is the "plot twist" and confusion of identity. It is here, too. The sacred and the profane are reversed, names take on shades of being the opposite of what they are. We are faced with a world where things as we know them are no longer true, and yet we are not usually told precisely what is going on. We learn more and more that our assumptions of where things were and what they meant were wrong. We learn more and more that the writing is meant to be fallible, because it is mostly people confessing their sins, not giving a god's-eye-view of a man's life (though they think they are).
I will not spoil the ending, partially because it is meant to be a little up to the reader's imagination; but I will say that I felt more touched by it than any other ending in the Palahniuk library. Not for what it said (or what it did not say), but because...well...one just wishes that church felt like that. There just seems to be a description of our ethical and metaphysical state not touched on too well in our currently literature. To toot another of my favorite writer's horns, it feels phildickian, where the outcast everyman ultimately years for a personal decision of right and wrong and becomes more than just himself.
I also am a sucker for stories that are about the act of telling stories, and Chuck is in fine form with this experiment. It does a feel a little too trodden in places, but overall, I feel this book pulls itself together.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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