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Diary: A Novel
Chuck Palahniuk
Doubleday, 256 pages

Diary: A Novel
Chuck Palahniuk
Chuck Palahniuk (pronounced paul-ah-nik) was born in 1962. He is an Oregon-based writer whose first novel, Fight Club, became a film starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.

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A review by Neil Walsh

Chuck Palahniuk is one of those authors who utterly defies categorization. As a result, he often gets lost in the mainstream. He's a bit too off-the-wall for the literary snobs, and he's not quite weird enough for the SF crowd. At least, that's what they seem to think. If you're looking for comparisons, I'd say Palahniuk is like a cross between Tim Powers on acid and Kurt Vonnegut gone postal. The truth is, Chuck Palahniuk is something of a literary wizard whose work, while perhaps not pleasing to all palates, is always admirable.

This is all true for Diary, only more so. The first 50 pages or so are almost physically painful to read. It's brilliantly written, well-paced, and it goes by quickly enough. But it's the kind of genius that reaches right into your soul and makes you really feel the despair and depression of the narrator; it makes you feel like just saying "fuck it all" and chugging back a 26-ounce bottle of oblivion. Jack Daniels would be a good choice.

But then, soon enough, the story starts to get really interesting. Then it gets even more interesting. Then it gets kind of freaky. And really, that's all you need to know. I don't know why I think this, but I have a strong suspicion that the best way to approach Diary is not to know anything about it, not even what it says on the cover blurb. So my fervent advice to you is to stop reading this review, find a copy of Diary immediately, and read this damn fine book.

If you're still reading this review, you'll be happy to know that I'm not going to tell you the girl's really a guy, or anything like that. I don't think that anything I'm going to say here is really a spoiler; I just think you'll get a fuller enjoyment of the experience if you don't know what to expect.

Still here? Damn, you're stubborn. Ok, then, here it is. Diary is a novel written as the therapeutic diary entries of Misty, a woman whose husband is in a coma. Before he tried to do himself in and ended up a vegetable, Peter, the husband, had worked doing renovations around the holiday resort-type island off the New England coast. But his last several jobs had been a bit odd, as Misty is now finding out. She's getting irate calls from Peter's former clients who are missing rooms. Yep, entire rooms have been walled up. And when these rooms are found, they're filled with the most vile, angry, paranoid graffiti you can imagine. Obviously, Peter was not a happy renovator.

Misty, who is now keeping the coma diary, had been a painter in her youth. She used to paint scenes of an idyllic holiday resort-type island off the New England coast. In fact, she used to paint scenes of her husband's home, long before she had ever seen it or been aware that it existed other than in her imagination. Now she's being pushed into painting again, by her mother-in-law, and by others. In fact, there seems to be a veritable conspiracy to get her painting again. So she starts painting. And she starts to do the best work she's ever done in her whole life. But is it her work? It seems more and more as if she's only channelling for someone else -- like automatic writing, only with oil and canvas.

Ok, now that's all I'm going to say about the plot. About the book I'll say Diary is possibly Palahniuk's best work to date, and he's generally way above the average. This novel is at times funny, disturbing, frightening, poignant -- but it's always clever, always well-written. Not a book to be missed.

Copyright © 2004 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh has several great passions in his life: reading, and...uh, some other things that are, no doubt, equally interesting.

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