Don’t be fooled by the synopsis you may see on the back of the novel “Rant” by Chuck Palahniuk. The synopsis says something like the story is about a serial killer who becomes a leader of an urban demolition gang called “Party Crashing.” That synopsis is insipid and meant only to appeal to general “normal thinking” audiences who are virgins from Palahniuk’s violent, reckless and almost schizo way of writing.
“Rant” is the first Palahniuk book I’ve read and I must say, I was completely blown away into the theta realm. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised because “Fight Club” is also one of my most favorite films. “Fight Club” is Chuck’s most famous novel and it was made into a film starring Edward Norton and Brad Pitt in 1999. I’m sorry, but if you haven’t seen “Fight Club,” you have lightyears to catch up with us cool people.
Now, as awesome as “Rant” is, there’s a BIG problem with the book. It is — especially if you’re a Palahniuk virgin — UTTERLY CONFUSING. Of course after reading the novel, you may have your own interpretation of the story, but once you reshuffle your thoughts and think back on the book’s events again, you’ll realize it has loose ends probably thicker than the book itself. I’ve been to a great Chuck Palahniuk fan forum on the web and even hardcore members there aren’t sure about what the F happened in the book.
In case you came here to seek enlightenment of a liminal or liminoid nature yourself, allow me to present my own interpretation of this postmodern fairy tale. BE WARNED: THIS INTERPRETATION IS SERIOUSLY LONG. However, if you want to go to great lengths to make sense of this sweet piece of fiction, be my guest (or my passenger):
The Concept of Splintered Time
If you’re a fan of the Back to the Future series like I am, you’ll remember that in Back to the Future II, where Biff became filthy rich because of an Almanac Marty got from the future detailing horse race results, Marty suggested to Doc Brown that they should go back to the future to destroy the Almanac so Biff wouldn’t be rich in the present. Doc was against this however, because if he and Marty traveled to the future, the future they’ll find is one in which Biff’s wealth and fortune still continued. They’ll never get back to the original future where Biff should be a poor and pathetic servant of the McFlys. At that point, Doc explained that as soon as the Almanac traveled to the past — the present and the future was instantly split into two: one where Biff was poor and pathetic (the original timeline) and one where Biff was filthy rich (the new timeline). In my analysis, this is the basic concept of “splintered time” in Palahniuk’s novel.
In my understanding, every time someone manages to go back in time, time is splintered into infinite number of parts.
For example, my present timeline says that I am typing on a keyboard. If I go back in time an hour before I begin typing, I instantly alter the past. One past could be me breaking a finger, so I can’t type. Another could be me sleeping on my keyboard. And another one could be me not typing on a keyboard at all. There’s an infinite number of possibilities or timelines when time gets splintered.
Like in Back to the Future II, each time a new past is made because of someone’s time travel, a new present is made, and a new future. Thus, a new timeline starts once someone goes back to the past. What’s important to remember is that the book only follows a single timeline. We are not reading about multiple timelines, but only a single timeline. That timeline is Rant’s timeline: from the day he was born to the day that he died in a burning car.
Charles Casey is Green Taylor Simms
From my reading, I was able to conclude that Green Taylor Simms IS Charles Casey — not Rant’s Dad whom we shall call “Chet Casey” — but the one who crashed into Echo’s parents and disappeared (Charles Casey was briefly mentioned. Look it up if you can’t remember.)
Now, one of the basic plots of the story is Green Taylor Simm’s quest to be powerful and immortal by seeding (or raping) his ancestors and killing his mother. Since this is Green’s motivation, we can deduce that Green wasn’t powerful before. Green didn’t always have superhuman powers like increased sense of smell or taste, increased capacity for knowledge, etc. Green started out to be a simple normal human.
So at first, Green (when Charles Casey was still his name) was born in Middleton. He had a father, a normal one, a different unnamed father who was not himself. Green was an ordinary boy. He wasn’t special.
Green went to the city where the I-SEE-U act was already in effect. He became one of the officers of the government who were testing traffic patterns by crashing cars.
By this time, “time travel” was already accidentally being done by test crashers of the government, who were colleagues of Echo’s mother. However, no one outside it still knew it can be done. Echo’s parents knew how it was done and tried to crash into a car to travel back in time to a place “where the air was clean and we’d have empty land all around us.” However, instead of them traveling back in time, they crashed into Green who was the one who accidentally traveled back in time. At this point, time was splintered.
Green, naked, lost in the past, had nowhere else to go but back to his old Middleton home. He found his house was different because it still hadn’t dawned on him that he’s in the past.
When Hattie, her great-grandmother, met Green, she had the hots for him. She wanted to have sex right away. Green didn’t seem to recognize his own great grandmother because he only learned of the date when he looked at the calendar after they had sex.
When Green reached orgasm, he felt he grew unusually stronger. This is one of the crucial parts of the story. From this point, Green starts to build the theory that by seeding his ancestors, he himself becomes stronger, a superhuman, with increased senses.
From then on, Green goes back to Middleton every 13 years to rape her ancestors — Esther and Irene. Every time he raped one ancestor, he grew stronger. He also killed them when they got older.
When Green raped Irene, his “real” unnamed father from the original timeline of his life disappears. Green was now the strongest he’s ever been, but he’s still not immortal because he hasn’t killed his mother yet.
Chet Casey (Rant’s Father) Was the Only One who Failed to Save Irene
In most of the fan discussions I’ve read, there seems to be a confusion on who was that person who Irene recounted traveled back in time to try to save her from Green but failed. Some say that person was Rant fresh from his burning car crash. I disagree. That person was no other than Chet, Rant’s father.
Allow me to explain.
Chet was born the proof that Green’s experiment worked — that seeding your own ancestors made you stronger in the future, present and past. However, although Chet was somehow connected physically with Green (such that when Green’s powers grew, so did Chet’s, so his sense of smell is strong), Chet now lived in a DIFFERENT past. It was the past splintered by Green traveling back in time.
Chet is Green and not Green at the same time because he is a product of a different timeline. This particular timeline started when Green went back in time to tap his great grandmother Hattie. Thus, Chet is someone unique though physically indistinguishable from Green and Rant.
So Chet went to the city, met Shot, Echo and Neddy (these are versions of the characters from Chet’s timeline). Chet did everything up to talking with Green and then crashing his car while burning.
Chet crashed his car in order to save his mother, Irene, from Green whom he perceived to be a lunatic.
Chet failed. He arrived about a minute too late.
Instead, Chet opted to just marry Irene to guard her just in case Green travels back again to kill her.
Now, the moment Chet traveled back in time to save his mother from Green, time was splintered again. Thus, a new timeline was created. This particular timeline is Rant’s timeline — the one we’re reading about in the book.
So Chet and Irene’s son, Rant (the HERO, the MAIN CHARACTER) is both Chet and Green, but at the same time, he’s not since he came from a different splintered past. (Remember the comparisons to the Holy Trinity? All are the same one but not?)
Now Rant, like Green and Chet, has superpowers (increased sense of smell and taste, etc). He lived basically the same life as Chet’s, but probably just varying in degrees. He met Shot, Echo, and Neddy (now the versions of the characters we’re currently reading about) and we followed his life through the stories of his friends and other people.
However, since Rant is an offshoot of a different splintered past, it also follows that he has a different future. This is why Chet Casey, his father, told him that when the time comes, he should hurry back and save his mother — something that he failed to do. This means that Chet realized that, unlike him, Rant has a chance of saving his mother because he has a different future.
I mean, if Rant had no chance to save his mother because as Irene recounted, that person from the past failed to save her from Green, then why did Chet bother to ask Rant to hurry back and save his mother when the time comes?
ANSWER: Chet knows that Rant has a different future because Rant was a product of a different splintered timeline. Rant has a chance to not fail like his father, so he must hurry.
Upon learning everything from Green, Rant knew that the time has come to go back in time. Thus, Rant crashes his burning car to travel back in time to save Irene like his father did. This is the car crash we’ve read. This is the car crash we followed in the story.
And Rant’s story ends with that car crash.
Was Rant Able to Save Irene?
What happened to Rant? Was he able to save his mother or not?
The answer is we don’t really know.
The story doesn’t go there. If Rant was able to do something in his future that Chet, his father, wasn’t able to do — we won’t really know (except if Wikipedia is right and there’s a sequel). The story ends with an open question: did Rant succeed or fail?
Why did Green Crash his Car like Rant?
Even though Rant had already disappeared after the car crash, as readers following his timeline, we still continue to read what happened through the testimonies of his friends and people around him.
We now turn to Green. Green realizes that if Rant succeeds in altering history, he’ll somehow be affected physically even though they are offshoots of different splintered timelines. Just as seeding his ancestor made Green and Rant and Chet stronger, Rant stopping his mother’s rape or even killing Green, would necessarily have some effect on Green’s physicality or existence. Maybe he’ll die. Maybe he’ll cease to exist. Either way, Green has to stop Rant from stopping him. So Green put some gasoline on his car, crashed and also traveled back in time.
Like Rant, we never know if Green succeeded or failed.
Proof that Chet and Rant Don’t Share Identical Histories though They are One and the Same Person
The proof that Green’s and Chet’s and Rant’s pasts are all slightly different is the fact that Chet didn’t recognize Rant’s attempts at fooling him with the inks used to color Irene’s eggs. Chet spent a lot of money testing himself for diseases because Rant would put ink on his underwear. This means that Chet had a different childhood. Had they been living the same timeline, or had they been sharing the same history, Chet would have known Rant was just pulling pranks — but he didn’t know. Rant kept fooling him with the ink and underwear prank. Therefore, Rant’s history was unique although similar to Chet’s and Green’s.
Shot Dunyun, Neddy Nelson, Echo Lawrence, and the Book’s Presentation
I’ve been thinking about this and I think Palahniuk wanted to present the novel as a real piece of history that had turned into fiction because the events that transpired cannot be proven anymore. Why? Because certain characters in the book succeeded in traveling back in time, eliminating the timeline where boosted peak technology exists and I SEE U act is enforced.
Shot Dunyun succeeded to travel back in time. He altered history such that boosted peak is impossible. Neddy Nelson traveled back ensuring I SEE U act is impossible. Echo traveled back in time to make her mother’s wish come true: that people lived in a place “where the air was clean and we’d have empty land all around us.”
Echo may have also traveled back in time to prevent the accident that disfigured her from ever happening.
Thus, the book is telling us: OUR history, our reality, is a product of the successful attempts of Shot, Neddy, and Echo’s attempts at altering history. The book presents itself as “real.”
At this point, we should also take note that the book is a collection of statements by people. Who collected these statements?
My hunch: Echo.
Echo doesn’t appear on the contributors section. She doesn’t appear there because aside from altering history, she managed to be an immortal. How she did that, we won’t know because that’s not part of the book (which again, follows Rant’s timeline only). However, if my guess is right and Palahniuk wants to present the book as a real piece of history, then it follows that someone must have preserved all those testimonies of the people who existed in Rant’s timeline. Someone must have collected all those testimonies. That someone is Echo. She became a historian, someone above time, and she presented the story to us so we could read it.
According to the government, she’s dead, but she’s already above time like Waxman (a suspicious character who seems to have more significance than what’s suggested).
Who’s the girl who walked out of the car crash? That’s an immortal. She could be any girl. Someone who attained immortality through time travel. Actually, we won’t ever know the answer, but she could be Tina Something or even Echo.
So my final thesis is that, “Rant,” the book, was the work of Echo Lawrence about her former boyfriend, Rant Casey, and about a dismantled splinter of time we’ll never have a chance to see because Echo and her friends had already altered history.