“Diary” by Chuck Palahniuk

It’s important to note that I formulated my opinion of this book without the knowledge that it was so universally acclaimed by book critics. This review has nothing to do with their opinions, nor my opinions of their opinions, and is solely based on the merit of the book. “Just for the record“, I think they’re all out of their minds.


I thought it was about cattle farming. Boy was I wrong!….. Ahhh, who am I kidding? That probably woud’ve been a better story, anyway.

Of the five Chuck Palahniuk books I’ve read, “Diary” is undoubtably the least engrossing, and the most difficult to “get”, at least for the first fifty pages or so. Most of that difficulty comes from the fact that the “voice” switches between 3rd, 2nd, and 1st person perspectives at seemingly random times. For the first few chapters the reader is entirely confused. It’s not until later that we’re clued in to the reasoning of the writing style, and even then, it’s still a little hard to figure out why. The book is written as the “coma diary” of Misty Marie Wilmot, an account of the events of her life, for her husband, laying in a coma after his failed suicide attempt. She writes from a detatched 3rd person point of view for most of it, discussing “Misty“, but saying “you” or “I” to re-iterate that her husband is responsible for things being the way they are, or when taking the blame herself, respectively.

Of course, without the clarification that this is indeed her talking about herself, the reader is left with a jumble of “I”s, “you”s, and “Misty/Peter”s, and totally distracted, but knowing the way the author writes, I’m sure that’s how it was intended. Effective, yet at the same time offputting for first-time “Chuck” readers. A common theme in his books is that he hides who characters really are, through tricks of language, and unfortunately, that payoff in this book is both early and underwhelming.

The bigger problem with the story, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be enough plot elements to warrant the length of the book (even though it is pretty short). The story revolves around Misty of course, who met her husband Peter at art school (the details of their courtship are a separate subplot thrown in every few chapters or so, “just in case” Peter doesn’t remember it when he wakes up… conveniently for us), got married, and moved in with his well-to-do family on the tourist trap Waytansea Island. Strangely enough, even though there’s a large influx of non-natives during the summer, somehow all of the rich island people have run out of money and are angry/resentful at/of the tourists. Their sole purpose is to reclaim their life of luxury and exclusivity. And Misty, they say, through her art, will be the one to do it for them.

The main action of the story involves Misty’s discovery of walled-up rooms inside houses that Peter built for the “Summer People”. Inside the rooms he has scrawled incoherent warnings on the wall in large print with spraypaint. The whole time that she is investigating, she is being manipulated by the island inhabitants, including her 13-year-old daughter, into basically becoming immobile and drugged-up, so that she can channel the spirit of a painter who’s been dead for 100 years.

The problem is that the mystery of the walled-up rooms doesn’t go anywhere. Once you read the first message, you realize that he probably didn’t want to be a part of the manipulation, and that’s why he tried to kill himself. There’s no point in dwelling on these rooms at all, yet there are countless chapters devoted to it. It feels like it was just tacked on to lengthen the story, and provide us with those trademark “Chuck” factoids that he fills his books with, namely construction superstitions.

His foreshadowing in this book is also pretty terrible, in that instead of hinting that things aren’t as they seem, he pretty much has the narrator discover that they aren’t, and through her, the reader as well, but not do anything about it. For example, early on, Misty asks around about the cause of Peter’s father’s death, which is met with different responses from different people. Of course she, and we, realize that they are lying to her, but when he appears at the end of the book, alive and well, it seems that we’re expected to be surprised that he is alive. Not only that, but there’s no explanation given as to the reason they faked his death in the first place.

Of course, as with all of the author’s other books, this one is filled to the brim with useless tidbits of knowledge about a few specific subjects, including facial musculature, graphology, the artwork patterns on fine China, and the methods used to make early paints. Unfortunately these factoids fail to be as interesting as how to make soap/explosives, the environmental impact of new species entering a habitat, or even how to clean impossible stains .

The book’s biggest detriment is that there’s no sense of the unexpected about to happen. The only reason I kept reading was just to see if I was right in my guess about the rest of the story.

I can’t in good conscience recommend this book to anyone but die-hard fans of the author. You’d be much better reading Survivor, Lullabye, Fight Club, or Invisible Monsters… probably in that order too.

*

This book has too many extraneous stories that don’t really resolve well enough. The characters aren’t likable in the least, even the character we’re supposed to be rooting for. The writing style is confusing at first and once explained, just tedious. The foreshadowing is too blatant, and there aren’t the traditional surprises that make his books interesting. The factiods quite possibly are the most boring of all of his books, even beating out the complete overkill of the items in Survivor. On the whole though, it’s a lot more of a pleasant read than most of the stuff we had to read in 9th and 11th grade of high school, namely “The Good Earth”, “Jane Eyre”, “The Scarlett Letter”, and “The Red Badge of Courage”, all considered classics.

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