Rant by Chuck Palahniuk

Rant by Chuck Palaniuk
Title: Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey
Author: Chuck Palaniuk
Publisher: First Anchor Books (Random House)
Publish Date: May 2008
ISBN: 9780307275837

Shot Dunyan: How weird is that? A sexually conflicted thirteen-year-old rattlesnake-venom junkie with rabies -well, it’s safe to say that’s every father’s worst nightmare.

Very weird and bizarre, but I suppose it wouldn’t be Palahniukif it wasn’t. This is actually the first book by Chuck Palahniuk I’ve read. I saw the movie Fight Club when it came out on DVD, but did not know it was a book until a few months ago, and then I’ve only known it was by Palahniuk for a couple months. Just from my limited exposure, though, I can safely say he is one of my favorite authors.

It will be difficult to review this book without spoilers, but I shall try. Rant is written in the form of an oral history. You start out with Wallace Boyer, daytimer car salesman, telling how he first met and talked to Rant Casey after Rant had died. HUH? And it stays just as mind-bending, alternate-universe-like, for the rest of the book’s 319 pages.

Within it’s covers, you read about rabies, time-travel, car crashing parties, people raising themselves to godhood, superhuman abilities, government conspiracy, and effective salesmanship. Is Rant Casey the patsy for a government’s true objectives, population control and maintainance of the class system? Or is he really a superspreader of a new, incurable form of rabies? What would happen if you went back in time and killed your parents before you were born?

At some point in time before Rant’s high school career, a technology is created that allows a person to “plug in” to a port at the base of your skull, and re-experience someone’s life experience that they recorded while experiencing it. And, of course, the experience aloneisn’t enough to keep people’s attention, so before the masses get it, it has been experienced and “out corded” by a possible variety of people from babies, the deaf and the blind, to junkies. These out corded experiences of the memory (or neural transcript) are then mixed in with the original. The final product is an amped up, or boosted peak, providing the consumer with an experience of heightened sensitivity and awareness; a memory that is more real and alive than they’ll ever experience in their own life. However, a person with the “Rant Rabies” cannot receive the neural transcripts, so they must seek the highs elsewhere, one way being through “party crashing”. Party Crashing is like a sport with teams of people in cars driving around and crashing into each other… for fun.

There are several scenes in the book that I really liked, but my favorite is the Halloween haunted house where the fifth-grader Rant hosts the blindfolded game of “These are brains! These are eyeballs! This is intestines!”. Most of us have played this, and we know that it’s just maconi-and-gelatin mold, peeled grapes and cooked spaghetti noodles. MMmm, well… Rant’s is real.

Buster “Rant” Casey is the hero/anti-hero of this book. In his childhood, he was the most popular kid and most infamous in his small Texas town. He was the Tooth Fairy of the fifth grade class, giving hundred-year-old gold coins for teeth and upending the Middleton economy. In high school, he led the Erection Revolution seeking gender equality for male students. And when Rant left town for the big city, he left a large population rabies infected.

I was enraptured by this book. It’s weirdness and unexpected events kept driving me to turn the pages. By the middle of the book, I could not even begin to fathom where this book was going nor how it might end. I couldn’t say, “Oh it’ll end this way because that’s the rules of literature.” It’s Palahniuk! He writes his own rules, then breaks them.

Graphic and nauseating in spots, sexually explicit in others, and weird through and through, this book is definitely not for the squeamish, the nice-story and happy-ending seekers, and don’t even bother picking this book up if you aren’t willing to fulling suspend logic for the duration. But if you are the type of person who would hide out at the freak show until after closing time, just to see what might crawl out of the cages, this book is for you.

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Dough: A Memoir by Mort Zachter

A Memoir

Title: Dough: A Memoir
Author: Mort Zachter
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publish Date: 2008
ISBN: 9780061663413

What would you do if you found out your uncle, the one who wears the same suit he did when Reagan was inaugurated (the first time) and drives around in the same junkyard escapee that looks like an accordion for the last thirty years, had over 6 million dollars? While you’ve struggled to make a family and pay bills, your uncle’s been sitting on a mound of cash, never offering to help and always saying how broke he is.

That is what happened to Mort Zachter, grandson and nephew of Jewish Russian immigrants. “The Store”, as it has always been referred, was the family owned and run bakery. Began by Mort’s grandparents as a pushcart vendor that graduated to a Lower East Side 9th Street storefront, the Wolk family sold day old breads and cakes to the neighborhood. A beloved fixture for over forty years, it almost never closed… not for sabbat, high holidays, weddings or blizzards… Zachter’s uncles and mother moved the merchandise. They never went hungry, but they never were rich… or so Mort thought.

When his father’s illness requires Mort to take care of his uncle’s affairs, he discovers his uncle is loaded, to the tune of six million dollars. Dough: A Memoir takes the reader on the journey of discovery, realization, understanding and forgiveness. How could you not pity a man who has done without everything because he is “poor”, but has three brokerage accounts each with over a million in them?

I liked this book. It’s a short, fun and funny, touching read that is both a retelling of a life and a lesson to enjoy life now. This book is rich with texture: the smells of the bread and Suzy the cat in the bakery, Food Stamp Passovers, and complicated people. Uncle Harry wasn’t just a selfish bastard, but he was also the joking uncle who pulled people in, a Jewish Tom Sawyer who got people to work for free, oddly generous at times, and always his own man.

Harry Wolk had his faults, but he was a larger than life figure, overall, loved and well-known by customers. Zachter conveys this story without hatred, bitterness, or condemnation. One particular scene it in the book sums up how bad the uncles’ hoarding had been. While cleaning up Uncle Harry’s apartment, Mort finds boxes and boxes of unused, unopened appliances, cutlery, cookware and other stuff. The question is asked why they’d have bought stuff and never used it, the answer:

…It had to be a freebee… I was remembering the full-page savings-and-loan advertisements in the New York Post when I was a kid. Open your passbook savings account with us and receive your choice of the following gifts absolutely free… I plunged my hands deeply into the drawer and pulled out its contents over and over again. Bankbooks flowed from my fingertips, reflecting the maelstrom of New York City’s ever-changing financial history… Multiple accounts existed for each bank. All the accounts were closed…

My grandma was like Uncle Harry. She save-save-saved, even taking her own children’s pay and 4-H prizes, and never enjoying her life with it. She would manipulate others to her own purposes, and would tell her overburdened children “You’ll inherit it when I’m dead,” if they ever spoke up for themselves. The trouble is, she is now in a nursing home, dementia has taken her and her life’s savings. It’s such a waste that she didn’t enjoy life more and spend that money on her and her families happiness. At least SHE would’ve gotten the benefit of it. Now it’s all gone a golf bag and a down payment on some doctor’s second summer home.