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Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk (read in 2015)

Published by marco on

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

The story is told through one-line to one-page–long biographical snippets. The story goes from Buster’s upbringing in a grindingly poor town, where his young mother teaches him to how to make Easter eggs with wax and boiled vegetable stock. He is an odd child, inuring himself to poison through repeated animal, insect and arachnid bits, collecting old paint cans from old folks, who don’t realize they might be full of extremely valuable coins dating back to the mid-1800s, and following the foretellings of an old man who he met once and claimed to be his real father.

He warps the local economy in a way that makes all the townspeople complicit in his scheme, he catches and beats rabies multiple times, all the while spreading it throughout the town, especially the girls who, oddly, can’t get enough of him. He takes his ill-gotten gains to the city, where more of the world he inhabits is revealed, in the form of a stark subdivision between night and day shifts for humanity as a way of solving traffic woes, as well as a whole subculture of people organizing crash parties, in which they crash their cars into each other to feel what it’s like to really live—something that almost no-one knows now that one can “boost peaks” from others.

That is, full-bore digital sensory capture is freely available and lulls the populace. And this is very much what it is intended to do, according to some of the later biographical participants—to keep people from discovering that, if you crash your car just right, and you’re in just the right theta-wave, meditative state, you will be transported to another place in time, where you can become your own progenitor and increase the power of your current self, until you reach a point where you can kill your own parents, terminate the loop by eliminating the beginning and live forever, suspended in a liminal state. Very much an Infinite-Jest vibe (even a bit of Pynchon at times).

Some wicked cool concepts and intriguing thoughts in this one. Recommended.


“Near as I recollect, Chet and Buddy didn’t start out slow eaters. I trained them that way. It got to be too much, baking a devil’s-food cake from scratch and watching Chet and Buddy wolf it down in three bites. Two of them hurrying to choke down one slice, then another, until the cake was nothing left but the dirty plate. Even while they’re inhaling my food, they’re talking plans about something next, or reading out of a catalogue, or hearing the news on the radio. Always living months into the future. Miles down the road.”
Page 91
“Here’s a single girl’s secret—the reason you eat dinner with a man on a first date is so you know how he’s going to fuck you. A slob who gobbles down the meal, never looks at a bite, you know not to crawl into bed with that guy.”
Page 92
“Eight hours every day, renting out copies of Little Becky’s Seaside Hunt for Shells. Everybody wanting the same mass-marketed crap. Saying it’s for their kid, but really it’s not. All these fat, middle-aged dumbshits just want something to kill time. Nothing dark and edgy or challenging. Nothing artsy. Just so long as it’s got a happy ending.”
Page 114
“My point is, this seventy-two hours is coming out of someone’s life. This boost will replace something real a person might do, so it should be decent. Hell, it ought to be beyond decent. If some asswipe’s handing over his time, he should get the train trip sweetened by having the whole mess rewitnessed through a Playboy Bunny on heroin. Morphine at least. Watch those boring, bullshit mountains roll past while zonked on opiates and fondling your own set of love-a-luscious titties. You want to wish the old man a happy Father’s Day, that would be my gift suggestion.”
Page 118
“Renting out copies of Little Becky’s Easter Egg Hunt to people who just want to get through another awful night, alone. These people, boring themselves to death.”
Page 121
“From the Field Notes of Green Taylor Simms: Perpetuating Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny breaks ground for further socialization—including conformance to traffic laws which allow the maximum number of drivers to commingle on our roadways. In addition, insisting that the journey is always a means to some greater end, and the excitement and danger of the journey should be minimized. Perpetuating the fallacy that a journey itself is of little value.”
Page 131
“Even the night Rant died, my automatic first thought was: Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto II, or Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major…?”
Page 139
“None of the engineers impacted with enough velocity to hurt their comrades, and none of the events was worse than paint scratches and sheetmetal body damage. Still, on video you see traffic immediately slow to a voyeuristic crawl. The infamous and bothersome rubberneck effect.”
Page 173

Definite vibes of Infinite Jest.

“Rant’s hand slides across the seat until his fingers touch mine. He lifts my hand to his face, his lips touching my knuckles, he sniffs, eyes closed, and says, “Wrong.” He says, “Yesterday, you had rolled-oat granola with maple sugar and pumpkin seeds, vanilla yogurt, and dried cranberries…” And of course he’s dead-on.”
Page 178

There’s also more than just a hint of Das Parfum, now that i think about it.

“Neddy Nelson: You have any idea how bright the sun looks if you’ve been raised at night? Have you spent a hundred-something-thousand heartbeats wondering if you’re not already dying of rabies? Maybe you haven’t boosted in weeks, because you’re afraid you won’t be able to? You ever see friends you recognize get machine-gunned by police on real-time traffic cams? You ever found yourself trapped in a world where you’re everybody’s worst nightmare?”
Page 224

His wizardry lies in slowly and with tiny pieces accreting a story, a world, in which these words make sense. They mean something only now in the context of the rest of the book I’d already read.

“a curfew officer named Daniel Hammish, age forty-seven, a nineteen-year veteran of curfew patrol, was making his evening sweep when he assaulted a passerby.”
Page 226

That’s a rather nice way of adding more context, temporal this time.

“I mean, what if you found yourself a long time ago—by accident—and you met your own great-great-grandmother before it was wrong to date her? And what if she was a babe? And let’s say you two hooked up? And how about she has a baby who’d be both your daughter and your great-grandmother?”
Page 250

h/t to Up the Line by Robert Silverberg, which developed this concept into a major plot point three decades before this book came out.

“How can you expect Historians to feel anything for the suffering of the rest of us? Do you cry when a flower wilts? When a carton of milk goes sour? Don’t you think they’ve seen so many people die that their sympathy or empathy or whatever is pretty much wore out?”
Page 268
“The Emergency Health Powers Act simply enables the federal government to suspend all state and local powers, seize property, and quarantine populations in order to effectively deal with any infectious agent.”
Page 299
“Neddy Nelson: Doesn’t it scare you that the Emergency Health Powers Act now preempts all legal rights of the individual? Shot Dunyun: The way you lock up all your enemies without charging them with any crime, or providing lawyers, it’s called a quarantine. Doctors are the new judge and jury. Disease is the new weapon of mass destruction. Neddy Nelson: Why do you think every political radical gets “diagnosed” as rabid, then locked up until his inevitable death is announced? Don’t you see how this is legalized assassination?”
Page 302
“Wallace Boyer: Nothing says you have to believe this. Nothing says you have to even listen, but consider that plenty of smart, rich, powerful folks in history went to their graves swearing that the sun went around us. Also consider that someday, when you’re dead and rotted, kids with their baby teeth will sit in their time-geography class and laugh about how stupid you were.”
Page 307

Or perhaps that there is only one time, shared by all, instead of individual manipulated loops and whorls. it’s like the myth of the common economy now. We don’t all share just one. It could turn out to be the same with time, once we make a breakthrough. (Made me think of how the main plot conceit of The Long Earth changed everything we know about “being on Earth”.)

“And Green said, “Who do you think invented this little game you enjoy so much?” He said, “Who do you think decides the field and flag and window, then sends the word out?” He said, “What do you suppose would happen to Party Crashing without me?””
Page 307
“Wallace Boyer: If it helps, consider how people used to think the world was flat. Two-dimensional. They only believed in the part they could see, until somebody invented the ships and somebody brave sailed off to find the rest of the earth. Consider that Rant Casey is the Christopher Columbus of time travel.”
Page 310