I've heard it said that there are no new ideas left in the world. The proliferation of movie remakes, regurgitated pop music, and Danielle Steele novels certainly add to this argument. Even in "Rant," Palahniuk's latest novel, you won't see anything that hasn't already been covered by Sartre, Camus, or The Terminator. The thing about Palahniuk (and other brilliant writers like David Mitchell, Craig Clevenger, and Jonathan Lethem) is that while the message may not be all that new, the manner in which it is told is nothing short of stunning.
If you're paying close enough attention, Palahniuk gives away almost the entire story in the first four pages, and he drops plenty of hints along the way for those who still haven't caught on. "Rant" is about, alternately, an underground cult of car crashers, a rabies epidemic, the true essence of religion, and a guy named Buster Casey who is addicted to spider bites. Like his other novels, Palahniuk employs an encyclopedic knowledge of the macabre. His spare, punching prose ties together a medley of ideas and facts until what you're left with is a dizzying collage that is so kaleidoscopic, it'll probably take you three reads just to get half of what he's saying.
And he says a lot, in spite of the low page count. Some of "Rant," in fact, might feel rewarmed to the hardcore Palahniuk fan. A character named Echo Lawrence makes her money by exploiting the same weaknesses manipulated by Choke's Victor Mancini. Buster's physical immolations recall Shannon McFarland's reality-enhancing disfigurement from Invisible Monsters. And the whole idea of Party Crashing (an underground cult of Nighttimers who get their kicks by intentionally hunting down and wrecking into each other) is an obvious off-shoot of Fight Club's nihilistic pugilism (an observation that is actually made by Palahniuk himself, three-quarters through the book).
While those past books were great in their own ways (although "Choke" was a bit more mainstream than usual), they were also all pretty single-minded of purpose. In "Rant," Palahniuk's blistering pen stabs into several themes -- population control, theistic iconography, segregation, and (of course) life as a diversion from reality, the theft of existence by a society that is happier with blunted and denuded entertainments than with the raw, sometimes poisonous, bite of true, fully aware experience. Most Eastern philosophies are all about achieving true consciousness through an elevation of the mind; Palahniuk wants the same thing, but his methods of transcendence involve far more noise, chaos, and pain.
If it sounds confusing, it is, but the real brilliance (and -- believe it or not -- beauty) of "Rant" is how all of these themes dissolve into one another. There is no clutter here, in spite of the density of the words. The fact that the book is arranged in the form of an oral biography -- told exclusively through snippets of interviews and recorded information -- only adds to the story's web-like framework, highlights each dark, glistening strand.
"Rant" is a lot of things. It is part Strange Days, part Perfume, and part Cronenberg's Crash. It is half a condemnation of a spirit-deadening world, and half a celebration of it. It's morbid, grotesque, unsettling, evocative, and sometimes just plain hilarious.
It's Palahniuk. What more can I say?