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  New York Times Review

NOT long into "Rant" - 21 pages to be exact, after the car wrecks featuring impaled lungs and "severe internal exsanguination," after the torn-apart carcasses of mule deer and rabbits, after the black widow bites on human nether parts and the blood-drinking family dogs - the author describes the prairie storms that hit the little burg of Middleton, blowing over trash cans, strewing used condoms and panty liners and sanitary napkins (but nothing else, apparently) along the barbed wire fences on the edge of town. He zooms in - he can't resist - for a closer look: "Old blood and chunks so black it could be road tar. Blood brown as coffee. Watery pink blood. Sperm died down to almost-clear water." A new Chuck Palahniuk novel has arrived! But don't think Palahniuk, the author of "Fight Club," is a garden-variety shock jock. This is the gross-out gone existential. This is about keeping it real. About staring down what one character in "Rant" calls "the fake ... nature of everything," and exposing our collective split jugular. "That night, even as a little boy, Rant Casey" - the country-boy hero of the new novel - "just wanted one thing to be real. Even if that real thing was stinking blood and guts." "Rant" unfolds as an oral history of Buster (Rant) Casey by the people who knew him before (and perhaps after - the novel plays with fluid sci-fi notions of time) Casey drove off a bridge in a Cadillac with a flaming Christmas tree strapped to its roof. The novel is about the building of an urban legend: Casey is a dystopian folk hero who may or may not have been a serial killer. Of course, the rant is also Palahniuk's preferred method of fictional oratory: jazzy, digressive riffs mixing science, pop cultural detritus and slacker lore, cumulatively sketching out a bent, fallen world. At its best, Palahniuk's prose has the rat-a-tat immediacy of a bravura spoken word performance. When he misses, which he does often in "Rant," it's just overcooked and indulgent. As a lad, Rant Casey likes to go "animal-fishing" - heading out into the desert to stick his bare hand down animal holes. "Didn't matter what critter - scorpion, snake or prairie dog - Rant would be reaching blind into the dark underground, hoping for the worst." No high like getting bit, Rant tells his pal Bodie Carlyle, whose hand has just been punctured clean through by jackrabbit chompers: "This here, far as I'm concerned, this is how church should feel." Unsurprisingly, Rant contracts a wicked case of rabies, which he wantonly spreads through Middleton, an act that's either viral terrorism or liberation theology. (Rant preaches resistance to McSociety, which sometimes requires a little foaming at the mouth.) One character calls Rant Casey a modern-day Huck Finn, but what really comes to mind (and it's not the first time with Palahniuk) is Holden Caulfield gone goth: perpetual adolescence waging war on the phonies and squares. This point of view - which Palahniuk has a knack for expressing in bumper-stickerlike rallying cries - is catnip to preadults (these days, just about everyone under 45), which helps explain why his books are best sellers. Soon Rant splits Middleton for the big city. Palahniuk can be impressively lyrical: here he describes Rant's parting, waiting with his father outside town for a bus to take him away. Notice the alliterative bursts and rhythmic cadences of the sentences, which mimic the sounds of cars racing by, and amplify the desolate pathos of the scene. "A star blinks on the edge of the world, getting bright, blinding bright, growing so fast it goes past before you can hear the sound, the wind and dust of it - only a car, already come and gone. The headlights fading over the far side of the world." The city, when Rant gets to it, is a nameless, postapocalyptic sprawl. It's run by fascist traffic planners who have segregated the citizenry into Daytimers (who move freely during daylight) and Nighttimers (an underclass of the destitute and otherwise misfit). Shoot-on-sight guards enforce curfew. Rant joins the Nighttimers (in the Palahniuk cosmos, salvation - or at least consolation - is always found among the leagues of the disaffected). He quickly falls in with the "Party Crashers," a sort of citywide impromptu demolition derby league organized around theme nights. For "Honeymoon Night," say, they all deck themselves out in tuxedos and wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses, festoon their cars with shaving cream signs and cans strung to bumpers, and prowl around town at high speeds, looking for other costumed cars to rear-end. (For "Soccer Moms," pennants and booster uniforms; and so on.) Rant's girlfriend, Echo Lawrence, describes her first Party Crash, pursuing a mock deer hunter in camos, with a Styrofoam buck on top of his sedan. "Chasing him, I forget I have a bum arm and leg. I forget that half my face can't smile. Chasing him, I'm not an orphan or a girl. I'm not a Nighttimer with a crummy apartment. The deer ... dodges through traffic, and that's all I see." It's fitting that Echo, Rant's true love and the novel's heroine, is beautiful but disfigured. For Palahniuk the morbid aesthetic has devolved past cool-cat pose into reflexive tic. The problem with collecting and sentimentalizing freaks, though, is that they get reduced into cute caricatures. And the specter of cuteness has always dogged Palahniuk; even at his most grisly, it's like watching Gene Simmons spit blood and breathe fire onstage. (Tellingly, Palahniuk has been known to respond to fan mail with care packages of toy animals and severed plastic limbs.) Even his admirers may be disappointed by "Rant." As a project, it has a dialed-in, flabby air. The sci-fi conceits are derivative and give the plot a hoary implausibility (and I'm not even addressing his "Michael Crichton for the Utne Reader set" conspiracy theories about Henry Kissinger, AIDS and Africa). Palahniuk has always been more sensation artist and cultural vacuum than storyteller. His characters aren't developed so much as given colorfully grotesque and morbid mannerisms and back stories. Sometimes he gets away with this by force of an assured voice and a febrile imagination: "Fight Club" had a cold stylish gleam; at some level its fantasies seduced. Take that away and all that's left is shock as shtick. Palahniuk, the author of 'Fight Club,' isn't a garden-variety shock jock. This is the gross-out gone existential. Field Maloney is writing a book about wine in America.

  Library Journal Review

It is 1962, and college graduates Florence and Edward, very much children of late 1950s London, are ready to launch themselves as a couple. Musical Florence is hoping for a concert career and looking forward to the wedding she believes will truly define her adulthood. Edward, a budding historian from a troubled family, envisions lifelong domestic joy with his beautiful fiancee. However, both are plagued by private anxieties they can't bring themselves to discuss. As Edward plans an idyllic beachside wedding night, he broods about overcoming Florence's physical shyness given his own sparse experience. He has no idea she is terrified of sex but has grimly resolved to do her submissive duty. The results are false assumptions, confusion, and a nightmarish (and graphically described) sexual disaster that destroys the marriage even before it starts. McEwan's (Saturday) brief, affecting tale of romantic dreams overthrown by adherence to social constructs that are about to change radically is a strong effort from this Booker Prize winner. Recommended for most adult fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/07.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Booklist Review

In previous novels, McEwan has measured the effect of the cataclysmic moment on personal lives. And he has never shied away from full-tilt exploration of the tensions inherent in human sexuality. These two predilections merge, almost gently, in his new novella, which, despite its short length, is anything but small in its creative concept and the consequent poignancy it arouses in the reader. This achingly beautiful narrative, which seamlessly flows between the points of view of the two primary characters, peers behind closed doors, but never lasciviously, at a young married couple on their honeymoon night. The time is the brink of the 1960s, but the young couple's virginity, and their stiltedness in general and certainly with each other (McEwan makes certain to take several glances backward to fill in their separate biographical and psychological profiles), seems a remnant of Victorian times rather than anticipating the free and easy sexuality of the decade to come. The cataclysmic moment here is simply a case of premature ejaculation during the couple's first lovemaking; and from that incident, which under normal circumstances, with normally accepting and loving individuals, would have been a minor glitch in their marital history, immediately arises a deep misunderstanding that proves disastrous to the marriage. Conventional in construction and realistic in its representation of addled psychology, the novel is ingenious for its limited but deeply resonant focus. --Brad Hooper Copyright 2007 Booklist
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Saoirse Ronan <br> <br> The bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author of Atonement brilliantly illuminates the collision of sexual longing, deep-seated fears, and romantic fantasy on a young couple's wedding night.<br> <br> It is 1962, and Florence and Edward are celebrating their wedding in a hotel on the Dorset coast. Yet as they dine, the expectation of their marital duties become overwhelming. Unbeknownst to them both, the decisions they make this night will resonate throughout their lives. With exquisite prose, Ian McEwan creates in On Chesil Beach a story of lives transformed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.
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