book by Chuck Palahniuk
annotation by Kate Maruyama
In Diary Pahlaniuk creates a fantastical world littered with richly layered characters. He walks the careful line of not revealing too much, but telling us enough that we don’t get completely lost.
The story drifts in and out of second person, which is jarring at first, but once we realize that Misty is addressing her comatose husband, Peter, it makes more sense and becomes deeply poignant. When Palahniuk breaks third person and goes into second, we know that Misty is telling us something important. It’s a clever technique.
Peter is introduced through his scrawling graffiti in the hidden parts of peoples homes and from his words we can pretty much gauge that he’s a total asshole. Even in insanity, a person is revealing what is in his heart and Peter’s graffiti comes from a black, vindictive place with petty snipes at Misty, and seemingly psychotic rants about a coming doom. The story of Peter goes on just offstage: the contractor who went crazy and started sealing up rooms, writing psychotic diatribes on the walls beneath the paper. It is terrifically told and made me want a book from Peter’s point of view (before I got to the reason behind his ranting, but more on that later).
Palahniuk explores Todorov’s realm of The Fantastic throughout this book, revealing the potentially supernatural in a lovely, straightforward frank way. Rather than weave any mystical nonsense, he reveals some creepiness about Misty’s diary when her mother in law, Grace says, simply, “Oh dear. My mistake. You won’t have that terrible headache until the day after tomorrow.” Grace has told Misty that she’s been reading her diary, somehow already written, and that she is destined for greatness. I’ve tried to have the supernatural revelations in my novel given as fact, for the fact of the heroine withering is more alarming without a mystical build up. But this is definitely inspiration to go through and review, make sure I’ve removed all telltale musical stings, such as the one we have in any movie where we discover IT WAS THERE ALL ALONG (dun dun dun) or THE GLOVE IS ON THE BED (dun dun dun). I think my book’s relatively sting free, but Palahniuk was very good at delivering each twist in a clear and powerful manner….until the end. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
Misty’s voice is well wrought throughout the book. She’s plainspoken, trying to deal with the loss of a husband she never fully understood, who turned into a monster, but whom she loved very deeply. Palahniuk creates a person we know and drives her home with simple repetition. She opens many paragraphs of something she’s telling Peter with, “Just for the record.” Early in the novel it’s used for her point of view, “Just for the record, Peter, it really sucks how you tell everybody your wife’s a hotel maid.” And then, the familiar takes on a devastating tone later in the book with, “Just for the record, she’s sorry about Angel Delaporte. Misty’s sorry you were raised inside such a fucked-up legend. She’s sorry she ever met you.” (236)
Repetition enriches Misty’s personality and her journey with “Take a drink” which is interspersed through the action of Misty working at the hotel and later turns into, “Take a pill.” When a customer says, “‘Well you should serve tofu instead of veal!’ take a drink….If they don’t tip, take another….If you’re not drunk and half naked by this point, you’re not paying attention….Then take a bonus drink.(19-21) A behavioral action repeated in the text that gives us a rhythm to our main character’s downward spiral as the drinks turn to pills and we are given the dogged certainty that Misty is on the road to self-destruction. Pretty cool technique.
They mystery is woven carefully, the sinister mother-in-law, a feeling of certain doom and then downright creepy things happening keep the mood of the book tense, fascinating and moving along swiftly. Palahniuk keeps us onboard with Misty, and reveals awful things to us that she’s too out of it to notice. It’s a good thing to have a reader screaming at the heroine “get out of there!” without feeling like the heroine’s a total idiot. She’s dumb for taking the pills from the doctor, but we’re happy she’s painting and we know that she has an addictive personality, so we’re okay with it. In the meantime, Palahniuk weaves in scenes from Misty’s past with Peter, who, in retrospect becomes a bit less of an asshole. We can see why Misty was attracted to him, and that she really loved him, and that his belief in her must have been contagious. We have scenes with their daughter Tabbi, whom Misty adores. The flashbacks lend depth to the present story as well as clearing up any misconceptions we may have about Misty. Palahniuk reveals her to us in layers, which keeps the story moving.
(spoiler alert) But then the shit comes down. Granted, there’s a sense of urgency when Misty is hooked up to a catheter, fed pills and made to work blindfolded. But this reader got a big, “uh-oh,” and when Misty was being fitted for her dress for the opening. And a “here we go again” when she called the police. Sigh. So much invention, character and technique and I was back in a sixties, seventies reading Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, all the greats who made these plot lines work, but who have been, since then, so often imitated that their stories have become predictable. Wicker Man, Children of the Corn, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We will get the illusion our heroine is safe, then get pulled back into…oh, not again, the crumbling fortress.
It’s an evil plot, by the island, see, to keep the crops growing, no, I mean to keep their coffers full. Misty is the chosen one who will be sacrificed, whoops, will make a great work of art and the seventh son of the seventh son. You see where it’s going. Of course she almost gets away. Of course she can’t escape her doom. Of course, in the end, we are given the musical sting that Palahniuk has avoided thus far that resistance is futile. This will happen again. The same as it always has. Because it is a self-fulfilling prophecy in which another woman will become trapped.
The plot ending didn’t ruin the book for me, the characters were great and it was a pleasure to read. It is true that we are telling the same stories over and over; it’s just disappointing when they are quite so on the nose. This book made me wary of the ending of my novel. I’ve been avoiding so many things we’ve seen before all the way through and the inevitable does happen, but has it happened in a way that won’t disappoint the reader? It’s the battle all writers fight. Onward ho.