The New York Times
Diary really hits its stride when the blood starts flowing (one memorable scene involves an unwanted leg cast and a steak knife). Palahniuk is better at sensation than philosophy, a pulp writer who excels when he stops worrying the big ideas and channels his wild, misfit heart.
The Washington Post
Diary may be trying to be too many things at once, but when it's on, it's on, and it could be Chuck Palahniuk's most ambitious novel to date, certainly the most ambitious since Fight Club. In a publishing world of sentimental biographies, thrillers and plotless realism, it's refreshing to see someone attempt to flip the concept of myth and break fairy tales down into the physical details of modern life. At this Palahniuk is one of the gifted -- and we can be thankful that a writer with such an established readership is still driven to experiment.
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. (Aug. 26) Forecast: Doubleday's marketing plan for Palahniuk is appropriately surreal-"street team guerrilla marketing" will supplement the usual advertising and author tour routine. The book's premise, relatively sedate at first glance, may make it a harder sell than previous novels, but once readers pick it up, they won't be able to put it down. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
"Genius is pain," or so John Lennon said, and Palahniuk's sixth novel (after Lullaby) takes that grim assertion as its axis. Misty Marie Kleinman, a trailer-trash art student whose Thomas Kinkade sensibilities are embarrassingly out of place amid voguish peers intent on high-concept excretory art, falls for a creepy drifter whose home on picturesque Waytansea Island is identical to her own storybook imaginings. The idyll turns sour as the island is overrun with rich summer people, and her husband attempts suicide after desecrating several of their homes with prophetic scrawls. Waiting tables in the local hotel to support her daughter and mother-in-law, washing down aspirin with wine, and anatomizing the seediness of her life in a caustic journal addressed to her comatose spouse, Misty seems to have permanently deferred her dream. Yet she is destined for a strange renaissance. What follows is a blend of paranoiac horror along the lines of Rosemary's Baby and an inventive fable about the uses of art and its relation to suffering and the universal unconscious. Neither plot nor theme is brought to a persuasive conclusion, but the journey is consistently engaging. Recommended for most public libraries where Palahniuk's provocative books are appreciated. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/03.]-David Wright, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Failed artist becomes wife of carpenter on picturesque island-then, in Palahniuk's remarkable sixth novel (after Lullaby, 2002), everything goes to hell. Actually, Misty Kleinman is not so much a failed artist as a woman who always wanted to draw, went to art school, and never quite got up the gumption to try being an actual artist. She fell into a relationship with Peter Wilmot, the really-off guy at school, and moved with him to Waytansea Island. But that's not where Palahniuk starts off: instead, he gives us Misty later on, when she has a 12-year-old daughter, Peter is a vegetable in the hospital (thanks to a clumsy suicide attempt), an unglued sense of reality prevails. You see, Waytansea Island is beautiful and has been discovered by wealthy mainlanders who clog the roads, take up space on the ferry, and generally act like human cholesterol, things that hardly make old-family islanders like Peter shiver with delight. Peter took his own revenge in a striking manner: he worked on the houses of mainlanders while they were gone, so that when they returned they found that entire rooms had-disappeared. These rooms were covered in threatening, apocalyptic graffiti and then walled off. Misty keeps getting called out to look at them once they're uncovered by angered customers-"The woman with the missing closet. The man with his bathroom gone"-and she tries desperately to care, as Peter lies in his coma. A waitress in the island's grand old hotel, Missy is stuck with her mother-in-law, who has an obsessive interest in when Misty will start to paint again. Misty starts getting ill, something that drives her painting in a way nothing ever has before, and soon she's able to do little else butpaint. Palahniuk restrains his more comic voice to deliver moving passages on inspiration, art, and suffering as a driving force. Only in the end, when things start linking up, does the novel, oddly enough, begin to unravel. A loose-limbed nightmare both vaporous and all-enveloping: awe-inspiring. Author tour. Agent: Edward Hibbert/Donadio & Olson
From the Publisher
“Some of his best work is here. . . . When it’s on, it’s on, and it could be Palahniuk’s most ambitious novel to date, certainly the most ambitious since Fight Club.” –The Washington Post Book World
“Madly inventive. . . . It simply, exuberantly, escapes literary categorization.” —Los Angeles Times
"Palahniuk's pacing is impeccable. . . . He draws from a strange palette of worldly nihilism and supernatural conspiracy to paint a compelling portrait of the artist as an unwitting conduit of evil." --The Boston Globe
“Palahniuk is a bracingly toxic purveyor of dread and mounting horror. He makes nihilism fun.” –Vanity Fair
“To read a Chuck Palahniuk novel means being shocked, enlightened, disturbed, buoyed, horrified, delighted and perplexed–sometimes on a single page.” —Pittsburgh Tribune Review
“Palahniuk delightfully pushes Diary into the ludicrous, but his restless intelligence coheres plotwise, and as always he makes his ideas move. . . . The pleasure here resides in his awesome ability to transform gleeful absurdities into a well-sculpted riddle.” –The Village Voice
“This is a book you won’t soon forget.” —Hartford Courant
“Diary is far more inspired and philosophical than one would expect even from a top-drawer horror novel.” —Seattle Times-Post Intelligencer
"Palahniuk has never sounded more like a latter-day Kurt Vonnegut than he does here . . . Life and art may not be that unfair, on the evidence of watching Palahniuk hitting his stride." --The New York Times
“The closest thing to a plain old mystery Palahniuk has ever written. . . . Stunning, funky stuff.” –Entertainment Weekly
“Daring. . . . Palahniuk’s inspiration comes from a love of the vernacular of subcultures, a black but not cynical sense of humor, and a fondness for unusual plot twists. . . . Ominous, shocking.” –Chicago Sun-Times
“Intriguing. . . . Must reading for art lovers and those who love a good puzzle.” –Baltimore Sun
“Palahniuk continues to redefine ‘scary’ for his readers. Recalling such classic horror tales as Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, Diary’s dark side reveals itself slowly, quietly. . . . Unraveling the mystery that [Misty’s] life has become is as eye-opening for us as it is for her.” –Chicago Tribune
“In his inimitable style, Palahniuk has forged another chilling tale out of our deepest fears and given readers a Rosemary’s Baby for the new millennium. . . . Diary is Palahniuk at his harrowing best.” –BookPage
“An inventive page-turner that fuses eccentric elements of suspense with supernatural overtones to create a modern symphony of psychological horror. . . . A refreshing shot of adrenaline to the intellect.” –Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“Palahniuk [is] a master storyteller. The dizzying twists and turns to this tale keep you smirking and shaking your head, guessing and thinking, wondering how he’ll make sense out of the next kink in the plot.” –Tampa Tribune
“Raw and wry. . . . Suffering for one’s art has never been this funny.” –Maxim
“Palahniuk at his angsty best.” –Details
Read an Excerpt
The Three-Quarter Moon
Today a man called from Long Beach. He left a long message on the answering machine, mumbling and shouting, talking fast and slow, swearing and threatening to call the police, to have you arrested.
Today is the longest day of the year--but anymore, every day is.
The weather today is increasing concern followed by full-blown dread.
The man calling from Long Beach, he says his bathroom is missing.
By the time you read this, you'll be older than you remember.
The official name for your liver spots is hyperpigmented lentigines. The official anatomy word for a wrinkle is rhytide. Those creases in the top half of your face, the rhytides plowed across your forehead and around your eyes, this is dynamic wrinkling, also called hyperfunctional facial lines, caused by the movement of underlying muscles. Most wrinkles in the lower half of the face are static rhytides, caused by sun and gravity.
Let's look in the mirror. Really look at your face. Look at your eyes, your mouth.
This is what you think you know best.
Your skin comes in three basic layers. What you can touch is the stratum corneum, a layer of flat, dead skin cells pushed up by the new cells under them. What you feel, that greasy feeling, is your acid mantle, the coating of oil and sweat that protects you from germs and fungus. Under that is your dermis. Below the dermis is a layer of fat. Below the fat are the muscles of your face.
Maybe you remember all this from art school, from Figure Anatomy 201. But then, maybe not.
When you pull up your upper lip--when you show that one top tooth, the one the museum guard broke--this is your levator labii superioris muscle at work. Your sneer muscle. Let's pretend you smell some old stale urine.
Imagine your husband's just killed himself in your family car. Imagine you have to go out and sponge his piss out of the driver's seat. Pretend you still have to drive this stinking rusted junk pile to work, with everyone watching, everyone knowing, because it's the only car you have.
Does any of this ring a bell?
When a normal person, some normal innocent person who sure as hell deserved a lot better, when she comes home from waiting tables all day and finds her husband suffocated in the family car, his bladder leaking, and she screams, this is simply her orbicularis oris stretched to the very limit.
That deep crease from each corner of your mouth to your nose is your nasolabial fold. Sometimes called your "sneer pocket." As you age, the little round cushion of fat inside your cheek, the official anatomy word is malar fat pad, it slides lower and lower until it comes to rest against your nasolabial fold--making your face a permanent sneer.
This is just a little refresher course. A little step-by-step.
Just a little brushing up. In case you don't recognize yourself.
Now frown. This is your triangularis muscle pulling down the corners of your orbicularis oris muscle.
Pretend you're a twelve-year-old girl who loved her father like crazy.
You're a little preteen girl who needs her dad more than ever before. Who counted on her father always to be there. Imagine you go to bed crying every night, your eyes clamped shut so hard they swell.
The "orange peel" texture of your chin, these "popply" bumps are caused by your mentalis muscle. Your "pouting" muscle. Those frown lines you see every morning, getting deeper, running from each corner of your mouth down to the edge of your chin, those are called marionette lines. The wrinkles between your eyebrows, they're glabellar furrows.
The way your swollen eyelids sag down is called ptosis. Your lateral canthal rhytides, your "crow's-feet," are worse every day and you're only twelve fucking years old for God's sake.
Don't pretend you don't know what this is about.
This is your face.
Now, smile--if you still can.
This is your zygomatic major muscle. Each contraction pulls your flesh apart the way tiebacks hold open the drapes in your living room window. The way cables pull aside a theater curtain, your every smile is an opening night. A premiere. You unveiling yourself.
Now, smile the way an elderly mother would when her only son kills himself. Smile and pat the hand of his wife and his preteen daughter and tell them not to worry--everything really will work out for the best. Just keep smiling and pin up your long gray hair. Go play bridge with your old lady friends. Powder your nose.
That huge horrible wad of fat you see hanging under your chin, your jowls, getting bigger and jigglier every day, that's submental fat. That crinkly ring of wrinkles around your neck is a platysmal band. The whole slow slide of your face, your chin and neck is caused by gravity dragging down on your superficial musculo-aponeurotic system.
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.
Your name is Peter Wilmot.
All you need to understand is you turned out to be one sorry sack of shit.
A woman calls from Seaview to say her linen closet is missing. Last September, her house had six bedrooms, two linen closets. She's sure of it. Now she's only got one. She comes to open her beach house for the summer. She drives out from the city with the kids and the nanny and the dog, and here they are with all their luggage, and all their towels are gone. Disappeared. Poof.
Her voice on the answering machine, the way her voice screeches up, high, until it's an air-raid siren by the end of every sentence, you can tell she's shaking mad, but mostly she's scared. She says, "Is this some kind of joke? Please tell me somebody paid you to do this."
Her voice on the machine, she says, "Please, I won't call the police. Just put it back the way it was, okay?"
Behind her voice, faint in the background, you can hear a boy's voice saying, "Mom?"
The woman, away from the phone, she says, "Everything's going to be fine."
She says, "Now let's not panic."
The weather today is an increasing trend toward denial.
Her voice on the answering machine, she says, "Just call me back, okay?"
She leaves her phone number. She says, "Please . . ."
Picture the way a little kid would draw a fish bone--the skeleton of a fish, with the skull at one end and the tail at the other. The long spine in between, it's crossed with rib bones. It's the kind of fish skeleton you'd see in the mouth of a cartoon cat.
Picture this fish as an island covered with houses. Picture the kind of castle houses that a little girl living in a trailer park would draw—big stone houses, each with a forest of chimneys, each a mountain range of different rooflines, wings and towers and gables, all of them going up and up to a lightning rod at the top. Slate roofs. Fancy wrought-iron fences. Fantasy houses, lumpy with bay windows and dormers. All around them, perfect pine trees, rose gardens, and red brick sidewalks.
The bourgeois daydreams of some poor white trash kid.
The whole island was exactly what a kid growing up in some trailer park--say some dump like Tecumseh Lake, Georgia--would dream about. This kid would turn out all the lights in the trailer while her mom was at work. She'd lie down flat on her back, on the matted-down orange shag carpet in the living room. The carpet smelling like somebody stepped in a dog pile. The orange melted black in spots from cigarette burns. The ceiling was water-stained. She'd fold her arms across her chest, and she could picture life in this kind of place. It would be that time--late at night--when your ears reach out for any sound. When you can see more with your eyes closed than open.
The fish skeleton. From the first time she held a crayon, that's what she'd draw.
The whole time this kid's growing up, maybe her mom was never home. She never knew her dad, and maybe her mom worked two jobs. One at a shitty fiberglass insulation factory, one slopping food in a hospital cafeteria.
Of course, this kid dreams of a place like this island, where nobody works except to keep house and pick wild blueberries and beachcomb. Embroider handkerchiefs. Arrange flowers. Where every day doesn't start with an alarm clock and end with the television. She's imagined these houses, every house, every room, the carved edge of each fireplace mantel. The pattern in every parquet floor. Imagined it out of thin air. The curve of each light fixture or faucet. Every tile, she could picture. Imagine it, late at night. Every wallpaper pattern. Every shingle and stairway and downspout, she's drawn it with pastels. Colored it with crayons. Every brick sidewalk and boxwood hedge, she's sketched it. Filled in the red and green with watercolors. She's seen it, pictured it, dreamed of it. She's wanted it so bad.
Since as early as she could pick up a pencil, this was all she ever drew.
Picture this fish with the skull pointed north and the tail south. The spine is crossed with sixteen rib bones, running east and west. The skull is the village square, with the ferryboat coming and going from the harbor that's the fish's mouth. The fish's eye would be the hotel, and around it, the grocery store, the hardware supply, the library and church.
She painted the streets with ice in the bare trees. She painted it with birds coming back, each gathering beach grass and pine needles to build a nest. Then, with foxgloves in bloom, taller than people. Then with even taller sunflowers. Then with the leaves spiraling down and the ground under them lumpy with walnuts and chestnuts.
She could see it so clear. She could picture every room, inside every house.
And the more she could imagine this island, the less she liked the real world. The more she could imagine the people, the less she liked any real people. Especially not her own hippie mom, always tired and smelling like French fries and cigarette smoke.
It got until Misty Kleinman gave up on ever being a happy person. Everything was ugly. Everyone was crass and just . . . wrong.
Her name was Misty Kleinman.
In case she's not around when you read this, she was your wife. In case you're not just playing dumb--your poor wife, she was born Misty Marie Kleinman.
The poor idiot girl, when she was drawing a bonfire on the beach, she could taste ears of corn and boiled crabs. Drawing the herb garden of one house, she could smell the rosemary and thyme.
Still, the better she could draw, the worse her life got--until nothing in her real world was good enough. It got until she didn't belong anywhere. It got so nobody was good enough, refined enough, real enough. Not the boys in high school. Not the other girls. Nothing was as real as her imagined world. This got until she was going to student counseling and stealing money from her mom's purse to spend on dope.
So people wouldn't say she was crazy, she made her life about the art instead of the visions. Really, she just wanted the skill to record them. To make her imagined world more and more accurate. More real.
And in art school, she met a boy named Peter Wilmot. She met you, a boy from a place called Waytansea Island.
And the first time you see the island, coming from anyplace else in the entire world, you think you're dead. You're dead and gone to heaven, safe forever.
The fish's spine is Division Avenue. The fish's ribs are streets, starting with Alder, one block south of the village square. Next is Birch Street, Cedar Street, Dogwood, Elm, Fir, Gum, Hornbeam, all of them alphabetical until Oak and Poplar Streets, just before the fish's tail. There, the south end of Division Avenue turns to gravel, and then mud, then disappears into the trees of Waytansea Point.
This isn't a bad description. That's how the harbor looks when you arrive for the first time on the ferryboat from the mainland. Narrow and long, the harbor looks like the mouth of a fish, waiting to gobble you up in a story from the Bible.
You can walk the length of Division Avenue, if you've got all day. Have breakfast at the Waytansea Hotel and then walk a block south, past the church on Alder Street. Past the Wilmot house, the only house on East Birch, with sixteen acres of lawn going right down to the water. Past the Burton house on East Juniper Street. The woodlots dense with oaks, each tree twisted and tall as a moss-covered lightning bolt. The sky above Division Avenue, in summer it's green with dense, shifting layers of maple and oak and elm leaves.
You come here for the first time, and you think all your hopes and dreams have come true. Your life will end happily ever after.
The point is, for a kid who's only ever lived in a house with wheels under it, this looks like the special safe place where she'll live, loved and cared for, forever.
For a kid who used to sit on shag carpet with a box of colored pencils or crayons and draw pictures of these houses, houses she'd never seen. Just pictures of the way she imagined them with their porches and stained-glass windows. For this little girl to one day see these houses for real. These exact houses. Houses she thought she'd only ever imagined . . .
Since the first time she could draw, little Misty Marie knew the wet secrets of the septic tanks behind each house. She knew the wiring inside their walls was old, cloth-wrapped for insulation and strung through china tubes and along china posts. She could draw the inside of every front door, where every island family marked the names and height of each child.
Even from the mainland, from the ferry dock in Long Beach, across three miles of salt water, the island looks like paradise. The pines so dark green they look black, the waves breaking against the brown rocks, it's like everything she could ever want. Protected. Quiet and alone.
Nowadays, this is how the island looks to a lot of people. A lot of rich strangers.
From the Hardcover edition.