by Chuck Palahniuk
“When you just cannot stop working. When completing this one project is all you can imagine. Then take a pill. Because Peter’s right. You’re right. Because everything is important. Every detail We just don’t know why yet. Everything is a self-portrait. A diary. Your whole drug history’s in a strand of hair. Your fingernails. The forensic details. The lining of your stomach is a document. The calluses on your hand tell all of your secrets. Your teeth give you away. Your accent. The wrinkles around your mouth and eyes. Everything you do shows your hand. Peter used to say, an artist’s job is to pay attention, collect, organize, archive, preserve, the write a report. Document. Make your presentation. The job of an artist is just not to forget.”
When I grabbed this book out of the library I share with my husband, he said, “Oh. That book was really good, but not one I would ever want to read again.”
This surprised me. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to read a good book over and over?
About 30 pages into this book, I understood his meaning. This book is creepy.
Diary is a novel by famed Fight Club writer, Chuck Palahniuk. He is known primarily for his off-the-wall way of depicting issues and ways of life that are not often told in everyday fiction. He pushes the mind of his reader to uncomfortable places and hopes to leave you enthralled, confused, disturbed, and delighted all in equal measure. The novel is short, coming in at only 260 pages, and in my opinion, could have been about a 100 pages less than it was. There was a lot of run-around in this novel, and while the story was interesting, I had a hard time relating to any of the characters and didn’t quite understand the actual storyline until close to the end of the book. But perhaps, this was the author’s intention…
We are introduced to our characters by diary entries. It takes a little while to figure out just who’s diary we are reading, and even then, the twist that comes out of it makes you take a moment and ask yourself – “what have I really been reading?” Authors who can determine a twisting plot line like that always garner my respect. It’s not easy to play a long con on your reader and keep them involved the entire time. The diary is presented to us as coming from our main character, Misty; a diary she is writing to her comatose husband in the hopes that one day he will awaken and be able to go back and read through all of the days he has lost.
“If you’re a little confused right now, relax. Don’t worry. All you need to know is this is your face. This is what you think you know best. These are the three layers of your skin. These are the three women in your life. The epidermis, the dermis, and the fat. Your wife, your daughter, and your mother. If you’re reading this, welcome back to reality. This is where all that glorious, unlimited potential of your youth has led. All that unfulfilled promise. Here’s what you’ve done with your life.”
Misty Marie Kleinman came to live on Waytansea Island once she married a fellow aspiring artist, one Peter Wilmot. It didn’t take long for her life to go downhill, which is disappointing, considering it had finally begun to move in an upwards momentum once she’d gotten herself into art school. She grew up poor, the daughter of a working class mother, resident of a trailer park, and dreamer of beautiful things. Peter came to her as a slightly awkward and very much unusual purveyor of all things lovely and full of light, but once she married and settled in on the island, he soon lost interest and went so far as to try and kill himself to get out of their marriage.
“The point is, when you’re a kid, even when you’re a little older, maybe twenty and enrolled in art school, you don’t know anything about the real world. You want to believe somebody when he says he loves you. He only wants to marry you and take you home to live on some perfect island paradise. A big stone house on East Birch Street. He says he only wants to make you happy. And no, honestly, he won’t ever torture you to death. And poor Misty Kleinman, she told herself, it wasn’t a career as an artist that she wanted. What she really wanted, all along, was the house, the family, the peace. Then she came to Waytansea Island, where everything was so right. Then it turned out she was wrong.”
Before Peter decided that life needed to end via a closed garage, a rolled down window, and an ignited engine, he went a bit mad. Misty is fielding phone call after phone call from disgruntled customers of Peter’s construction business – all with the same problem. They are missing closets, kitchens, spare bedrooms. Yes, missing. Hired to replace chair rail trim or baseboards, Peter instead sealed up entire rooms. Misty befriends one of the construction victims and they begin a quest to dig through sheetrock and dust to find the hidden rooms, all of which are graffitied with strange messages about how the island is trying to kill children and preserve a way of life.
Misty works a thankless job at a hotel as a server, but it’s not a job that anyone in town deems her fit to have. In fact, everyone in her life cannot get off her back about painting. The trouble is, Misty has no inspiration, and no matter how hard she tries, she cannot find anything that gives her the joy to go back to her life as an artist. Misty finds herself reminiscent on the beginning of her life with Peter and although it doesn’t quite seem right in some way she can’t put her finger on, she does indeed miss him.
“He lowered her to the gallery’s marble floor, and Peter said, “Te amo, Misty.” Just for the record, this came as a little surprise. His weight on top of her, Peter said, “You think you know so much,” and he kissed her. Art, inspiration, love, they’re all so easy to dissect. To explain away. The paint colors iris green and sap green are the juice of flowers. The color of Cappagh brown is Irish dirt, Misty whispered. Cinnabar is vermilion or shot from high Spanish cliffs with arrows. Bistre is the yellowy brown soot of burnt beech wood. Every masterpiece is just dirt and ash put together in some perfect way. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Even while they kissed, you closed your eyes. And Misty kept hers open, not watching you, but the earring in your ear. Silver tarnished almost brown, holding a knot of square-cut glass diamonds, twinkling and buried in the black hair falling over your shoulders – that’s what Misty loved.”
The money troubles are so bad that the Wilmot family home must be rented out to help pay for the extended care medical bills for Peter, and Misty, her daughter, and her mother-in-law move into the island hotel where Misty works. In an attempt to force her daughter-in-law into painting, Grace Wilmot poisons Misty and leaves her on a secluded part of the island with painting supplies. Out of this afternoon, one painting is produced, and Misty finds that her inspiration is on its way back to her. As a result of the poisoning, Misty begins to have a migraine that won’t go away. She consults the town doctor who prescribes her medication, and unbeknownst to her, she is being poisoned once again. What begins to transpire is a seemingly convoluted and strange plot by the town against Misty, all to get her to paint again – but is that the true purpose?
“She works on a picture every day. Working from her imagination. The wish list of a white trash girl: big houses, church weddings, picnics on the beach. yesterday Misty worked until she saw it was dark outside. Five or six hours had just disappeared. Vanished like a missing laundry room in Seaview, Bermuda triangulated. Misty tells Dr. Touchet, “My head always hurts, but I don’t feel as much pain when I’m painting.”
The book gets creepier and creepier, with an underlining of dark humor. Near the end, where the true plans and plots of the town against Misty (or for her, depending on your interpretation) are revealed, you marvel in the true genius of Chuck Palahniuk. Through some sort of precise madness, he has produced a tale that is so twisted and strange that you cannot help but admire it, even if it was a bit difficult to get through. Nothing about this novel was predictable and the extensive knowledge on the subject matter was impressive. It could be a bit much at times, but I think this is just the way of the writer. You are meant to be left shocked and awed, and you are meant to walk away wondering about the story for many days to come. It’s not difficult to see how the author has acquired such a cult following.
I agree with my husband. Great book, but not something I would ever want to revisit. The creep factor ended up just being too much for me.
I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, and would only recommend it to someone who enjoys this type of novel – twisty and dark, heavy on the haunting an bizarre.