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Diary: A Novel Hardcover – August 26, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
With a first page that captures the reader hook, line and sinker, Palahniuk (Choke; Lullaby) plunges into the odd predicament of Waytansea Island resident and ex-art student Misty Marie Kleinman, whose husband, Peter, lies comatose in a hospital bed after a suicide attempt. Rooms in summer houses on the mainland that Peter has remodeled start to mysteriously disappear-"The man calling from Long Beach, he says his bathroom is missing"-and Misty, with the help of graphologist Angel Delaporte, discovers that crude and prophetic messages are scrawled across the walls and furniture of the blocked-off chambers. In her new world, where every day is "another longest day of the year," Misty suffers from mysterious physical ailments, which only go away while she is drawing or painting. Her doctor, 12-year-old daughter and mother-in-law, instead of worrying about her health, press her to paint more and more, hinting that her art will save exclusive Waytansea Island from being overrun by tourists. In the meantime, Misty is finding secret messages written under tables and in library books from past island artists issuing bold but vague warnings. With new and changing versions of reality at every turn, the theme of the "tortured artist" is taken to a new level and "everything is important. Every detail. We just don't know why, yet." The novel is something of a departure for Palahniuk, who eschews his blighted urban settings for a sinister resort island, but his catchy, jarring prose, cryptic pronouncements and baroque flights of imagination are instantly recognizable, and his sharp, bizarre meditations on the artistic process make this twisted tale one of his most memorable works to date.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Palahniuk's sixth novel takes the form of a so-called coma diary written for Peter Wilmot, who is comatose after a running-car-in-garage suicide attempt (he started with the gas tank half-empty, proving his inability to do anything well). While Peter wastes away in a hospital, his family and friends waste away on Waytansea Island ("Everyone's in their own personal coma," Palahniuk writes with his trademark optimism). Peter's art-school-prodigy-turned-bitter-waitress wife, Misty, can't afford the family mansion anymore. Tourists have overrun the whole island, and the old-money families have spent all of their old money. But no one on the island seems to care about their community-wide coma. They just want Misty to paint. She refuses--until she begins to suffer tortuous headaches that only abate when she paints. The islanders seem suspiciously keen on seeing Misty's work continue, and the only way to keep her painting is to keep her miserable. Palahniuk's fans haven't seen plot twists this good since Fight Club, but this book lacks the manic humor that makes his better novels so engrossing. The fantastically grotesque premise propels the story, but the writing lacks the satirical precision that made Palahniuk a hero to young nihilists everywhere (see his take on the travel book, reviewed on p.1858). Instead, it often reads like a self-indulgent complaint about the terrible suffering of artists. Still, excellent plotting and a compelling allegory will satisfy the majority of Palahniukites. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top customer reviews
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.
It's hard to review it without giving away some of his always entertaining plot twists. It's also hard because I can't really fit it into any specific genre. I guess it's a psychological thriller. Kind of has a creepy small town vibe like Children of the Corn or in The Mouth of Madness, but I wouldn't call it horror like those works. Anyways, it's very very good and you should read it, especially if you're in art school. Lots of cool references for people who love art. He researches his books very well. I can't say enough good things about this book. Just read it. Definitely above average for Chuck's collection of classic work.