The Life of Buster Casey

Chuck Palahniuk has done it again in Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey.

Chuck Palahniuk has done it again in Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey. Shockingly gross, brilliantly paced and sublimely paranoid, Rant is the fictional biography of the rabid serial killer Buster Casey. Palahniuk’s Studs Terkel-style interviews paint an authentic picture, so vibrant that one starts to wonder if Buster Casey really lived.

The story is set in the future, during a widespread rabies epidemic that is believed to have been started by the kisses and other bodily fluids of Buster Casey, aka Rant. In order to address the overwhelming traffic congestion caused by population growth, strict “I-SEE-U” curfews exist in the cities. “I-SEE-U” curfews are enforced by martial law and segregate people into two groups: those who are allowed outside during the day and those allowed outside during the night. In this world where social classes are segregated by time, the tanned upper classes, “Daytimers,” fear the pale lower classes, the “Nighttimers,” whom they believe are responsible for the uncontrollable spread of rabies throughout the human population.

In this future reality the latest fad is Party Crashing, a deadlier version of bumper cars that is played on city streets. Ports that citizens have implanted into the backs of their necks have replaced TVs, movies and stereos. Pre-programmed neural sensory experiences, or “boosted peaks,” are perceived via uptake to these ports. Script artists create marketable programs for distribution to the masses, similar to modern-day television and movies. Sensory programs such as “Little Becky’s Happy Treasure Hunt” can be rented from program stores. Taste and smell advertisements are projected to citizens within range of certain businesses.

Buster Casey, or Rant, as he was known to his friends, grew up outside the city in the small town of Middleton, where “I-SEE-U” curfews were not in force. His world consisted of feral dogs and poisonous spiders. Rant’s favorite childhood pastime was sticking his arm into the burrows of unknown animals and getting bitten.

Rant is an idealistic rebel who has issues with his parents and is popular with the ladies. He captures the imagination of his friends with his unique take on reality. His friends report that their favorite Rant sayings are “You’re a different human being to everybody you meet” and “The future you have tomorrow won’t be the same future you had yesterday.” Palahniuk adds nothing that isn’t necessary, and these pithy expressions make greater sense as the story progresses.

When Rant’s father describes his deceased son as the person responsible for “a plague that’ll kill thousands of people, enough folks so that it leads to martial law and threatens to topple world leaders,” one fully expects Rant to be a monster. Palahniuk, however, builds the reader’s sympathy for his protagonist by relating the difficult circumstances of Rant’s youth. One of Rant’s earliest experiences was leaving his grandmother lying in the middle of the road to run get help for her black widow spider bite. When Rant returned, his grandmother had been mauled to death by wild dogs. It was later said that Rant’s grandmother was his first victim.

Rant is a tragically misunderstood character constantly searching for reality in a world that offers only simulations. According to the recollection of his friend Shot Dunyun, “What bothered Rant was the fake, bullshit nature of everything.” Rant, somehow different from his father, seeks to bring back reality.

As the story progresses, Palahniuk ties the disjointed, seemingly random ideas of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy with the “Grandfather Paradox” of time travel and liminal space. Adroitly, Palahniuk weaves all the pieces of his story together to make what seems to be a political statement about our current time. Heightening the paranoia, Palahniuk mentions the Emergency Health Powers Act several times toward the end of Rant and seems be inciting his readers to find out more about its existence and the great powers it has given our government.

Palahniuk writes to a male audience and doesn’t disappoint those looking for shocking asides. Palahniuk’s “sex tornado” is gross, disgusting and unnecessary, yet Rant as a whole is engrossing and elegantly crafted. While providing plenty of “guy” humor, Palahniuk provides strong three-dimensional female characters and refrains from degrading women in order to advance his story. Palahniuk crafts a fictional future on par with those created by Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury and, although rushed toward the end, gives the reader plenty to unravel. Rant is a riveting read.