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by Chuck Palahniuk

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating


Diary Chuck Palahniuk
ISBN: 0385509472
August, 2003

It's starting to feel like Chuck Palahniuk is trying too hard.

Admittedly, the eclectic and often brilliant author made famous by Fight Club is stretching creatively but with mixed results. For the first time since his first novel, Invisible Monsters, he is writing in a woman's voice, albeit the obsessed and borderline deranged voice of his "heroine." However, the urgency and broken speech are so reminiscent of his earlier work that it could very well be the fantasy of Fight Club's truly psychotic narrator.

Misty Wilmot is the broken wife of a nearly dead man. Once an art student with a startling creativity, her marriage to her husband Peter has brought her to the end of the world in a lot of ways. Living in the quaintly tourist-driven Wantansea Island, a dead ringer for Nantucket and other picturesque East Coast quaint villages, her life is going to hell. Peter has botched a suicide attempt and lies in a coma, oblivious to the suffering of his wife and their young daughter.
Misty works as a hotel maid picking up after the detritus of other people's lives and suffers even more indignation at the hands of Peter's mother, the ironically named Grace.

Many of Palahniuk's continuing themes and techniques are here including Misty's broken and fragmented train of thought, his bleak analysis of the working class subculture, and disgustingly accurate descriptions of the human process, right down to the opening dive through Peter's skin. It's not even that these things are not done well in the book; it's just that after seeing these verbal tricks through five books, there is a real sense of loss at these ideas being new.

In line with Palahniuk's current writing period, events get weird quickly. The book comes in the form of a "Coma Diary," in which Misty is supposed to describe the events of the world for Peter while he is having his little nap. While Misty spends much of her time relaying her hate for her husband in graphic terms, we also learn that Peter was busy before going down. Homeowners all over the island are discovering that rooms are missing, buried over in false fronts and drywall by Peter.

There is a good idea in here somewhere, touched on in a far more bewildering way in the cult novel House of Leaves, but it has not surfaced here. This is reportedly the second novel in a planned trilogy of horror novels that began with the truly disturbing Lullaby, but the idea somehow doesn't unfold in a compelling way. While Misty's descriptions of the vile messages Peter has left scrawled inside his hidden rooms are vivid, the book quickly degenerates into fairly standard gothic territory. Misty begins painting, the townspeople get creepier, and somewhere between swats at reincarnation and the tourist trade, things get resolved in typical Chuck fashion, which is to say not at all. The ending feels rushed, as if Palahniuk were trying to squeeze it in between his recent book of travel essays and whatever his next project turns out to be.

There is also the matter of Misty as the primary voice of the story. In all of Palahniuk's previous novels, his lead characters, from Fight Club's Narrator forward, the hero is both victim and victimizer. In Diary, Misty is very much the sole victim of a vast conspiracy and her lack of empathy towards her ended husband does not lend us much sympathy towards her.

Chuck Palahniuk was never the person to go to for a good time but the blacker than black humor of Fight Club and especially the superior Survivor seem less evident here. If his previous books had never existed, Diary might very well be a breakthrough. In light of his enormous talent and previous output, though, one cannot help but think that there is more there than this meandering and somewhat mean-spirited ride. You deserve more Chuck for your buck.

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