Review: Diary by Chuck Palahniuk

TITLE: Diary: A novel
AUTHOR: Chuck Palahniuk
PAGES: 272
FORMAT: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0385509473
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
FOR: Art lovers. Fans of the dark and the twisted. People into magical realism.  Anyone who enjoys a well-written book with deep themes and hints of the psychological and the grotesque. Older teens or adults. 


Chuck Palahniuk, the bestselling author of Fight Club, Choke, and Lullaby continues his twenty-first-century reinvention of the horror novel in this scary and profound look at our quest for some sort of immortality.

Diary takes the form of a “coma diary” kept by one Misty Tracy Wilmot as her husband lies senseless in a hospital after a suicide attempt. Once she was an art student dreaming of creativity and freedom; now, after marrying Peter at school and being brought back to once quaint, now tourist-overrun Waytansea Island, she’s been reduced to the condition of a resort hotel maid. Peter, it turns out, has been hiding rooms in houses he’s remodeled and scrawling vile messages all over the walls—an old habit of builders but dramatically overdone in Peter’s case. Angry homeowners are suing left and right, and Misty’s dreams of artistic greatness are in ashes. But then, as if possessed by the spirit of Maura Kinkaid, a fabled Waytansea artist of the nineteenth century, Misty begins painting again, compulsively. But can her newly discovered talent be part of a larger, darker plan? Of course it can …

the basics
I didn't enjoy this as much as other books Chuck has written.  It's hard to put my finger on why.  It just didn't give me the same fizzing elation that his others have.  That said, it was still a fantastic book.  Solidly written, clever plot, interesting themes, and very intricate story line that surprised to the very end.  Misty was a very sympathetic main character.  The diary form was a clever frame for the story.  The cultish island and its inhabitants gave me the same creepy feeling as when I watched "Wicker Man" (only without the natural distaste at watching Nick Cage).  Don't make it the first Palahniuk you read, but definitely give it a look.

plot . 5/5
The set-up was fantastically clever, as Palahniuk's set-ups always are.  There's magical realism thrown into the world, so it seems like it could happen right next to you.  So it seems like something is just a little out of the ordinary, or everyone is crazed out of their minds.  It's a mystery plus a romance plus a memoir plus a treatise on life and art plus a history.  But it never feels clunky!  I was mesmerized by the plot, and kept reading well after I'd meant to stop.

concept . 5/5
As usual, only Chuck could come up with something like this.  Misty Marie keeps a diary to inform her husband of the goings-on while he's in his coma.  Only it's an involved diary, with memories of the past and grand treatises on life and her life.  Art is pervasive through the book, and kitsch, creating a fully-fledged world that supports every theme.  It's also just clever, the cult of the island and its secret goings-on...which I'll leave out, mwuahaha.

characters . 5/5
They're all broken, and they're all lovable.  Except for Tabbi and Mrs. Wilmot, whom I wanted to strangle for most of the book.  Even Peter, who's in a coma the whole time, is fully real and present.  Misty--she's great.  She has a very distinct voice that's clear in every word.  You feel the truth of the repeated claim that everything we do is a diary, because you can see her in every word.  Angel is great too, and very funny--and ultimately, unexpected.  I really cared for Misty.

style . 4/5
Something about this just left me wanting more.  Or less.  I don't know.  It just didn't have the same aha! brilliance of Haunted, Choke, Fight Club, or Survivor.  Like Rant, which I read earlier and should review, it was good but not great.  The refrains were a little too repeated.  A little too heavy-handed.  It didn't feel as natural as his other works.  Misty's voice was great, but there was less of that subtle horror.  It felt more blatant than usual.  Okay, I'm not making sense, but basically, something didn't do it for me.

mechanics . 5/5
Nothing to comment on as far as grammar and spelling.  The diary format with alternating entries and flashbacks was a great way to tell the full story of Misty and Peter.  It didn't feel cheesy.

take home message
A clever discussion of life, memory, art, and the nature of legacy from one of our time's greatest pens.

Note: I purchased this copy used. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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