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Diary by Chuck Palahniuk Review

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ni·hil·ism (n-lzm, n-)n.

1.) Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief.
2.) The belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary for future improvement.

Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel was the bitter, cynical, diatribe called Fight Club. It is the story of young males who are so disenfranchised by materialistic American culture that they must beat themselves silly to feel anything. It is a scathing review of a society that numbs its members with consumerism. They characters become nihilistic in their views and begin destroying all that society deems worthy, including themselves. It spoke directly to a generation of males (and many females) including myself. It is a theme that permeates his following novels.

After seeing the excellent 1999 movie based on Fight Club and reading the book, I planted myself firmly in fandom of its writer. I began reading his subsequent books in no particular order (other than what I could find at the library.) I made it through Survivor, Invisible Monsters, Choke, Lullaby, and most recently Diary. Each of these stories follow the same basic guidelines. An assortment of odd and often disturbed characters move through an increasingly absurd amount of crazed plot lines. There is the former cult member on a plane to his death (Survivor) the faceless ex-model on the road with a transsexual (Invisible Monsters.) You get a man who intentionally chokes on food in crowded restaurant so he can bilk his saviors out of cash (Choke)and an involuntary killer who can summon a culling song of death at will. And finally a coma Diary “written” by the wife of an attempted suicide. Each of the novels are filled with jabs and slashes at societal norms. All of the characters go through extreme changes and end with a shocking twist. Unfortunately, they wind up being mostly the same.

Diary tells the story of Misty Wilmont, a once promising art student, who now waits tables at a sea side resort while she writes a coma diary to her husband. It seems her husband, Peter, whisked the young artist to the resort tourist island of Waytansea. Throughout the story Peter is in a coma from an apparent suicide attempt. All is not well on the once quaint Waytansea island and Misty quickly finds herself being locked in a hotel room by her mother-in-law and daughter, being forced to paint picture after picture blindfolded. I won’t give anymore of the story away, because it is filled with the usual Palahniuk twists that are have the fun of reading his stories. Once again this book is filled with, mostly true factoids, and a biting cynicism towards all things culturally held dear. The problem, here, is that we’ve heard it all before.

Try as he might, Mr. Palahniuk, has been writing the same story novel after novel. Oh, he gives us different characters and more outlandish scenarios, but his central themes remain the same. I read this one just waiting for the new twists to occur. But even the twists seem more of the same. I wasn’t expecting the actual twists to occur as they did, but I was expecting the twists, and that knocked half the shock out of them. The characters seem less real, and more as a cheap device to rattle off more nihilistic castigation.

Palahniuk is a talented writer. I just wish he’d get off his philosophy and get to writing something new, something fresh, something that Fight Club was when it first arrived in book stores.

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About Mat Brewster

  • I’ve only read Fight Club and Survivor. I could tell, at the end of Survivor, that there certainly was a formula being applied. The most obnoxious was the character’s fascination with a certain topic. Be it plastic flowers, homemade napalm, or prefabricated homes, these quirks all served to cover up the lack of depth in his novels. The books were enjoyable and a quick read, but I have no desire to continue investing time in his work.

    He’s a capable and knowledgeable writer. Anyone who visits his website and looks at his essays on writing will tell you this. It’s just unfortunate that he’s living the life of the shallow celebrities he supposedly loaths.

    It’s strange, but he’s often compared to the likes of Brett Easton Ellis, a writer of biting satire that avoids the conventions of best-sellers like the plague.

  • Nice review, Mat – substantive, meaty stuff.

  • Mat

    Thanks Eric. Always enjoy your support.

    I read Choke after Fight Club and though he I could see some repetitous material from his first book, there was enough there to make me read another. With each subsequent book I have been more and more annoyed with the outcome. I have kept reading partially because I maintained hope that he would get out of the rut, and I liked the idea of reading all the books written by a given author.

    I’ve only read American Psycho by Ellis. There was some truly brilliant, and hilarious, satire in there, but it was almost too graphic for my tastes. And my tastes run pretty graphic.

  • The only book that’s been almost too harsh for me is The Girl Next Door by Robert Ketchum. It haunted me in my sleep and stuck with me for months after reading it. Not necessarily for the imagery, but for the undertones. I definitely gain something from it, but I’ll never read anything by him again.

  • Mat

    So, would you recomment that I read it?

  • I’ve had that same experience, mrbenning, but with a different author. My terminal shudder was with Thomas Tryon in Harvest Home. I read his stuff without too much queasiness as it got bloodier and more graphic, until the final scenes in HH. It’s the only time I can recall throwing away a book I had bought.

    I couldn’t even justify to myself giving the book to the hospital or to a library. And I’ve never read another word by Tryon.

    So, Mat, I guess if mrbenning’s rejection is as strong as mine was, the answer to “would you recomment that I read it?” will be NO!

  • Mat,

    That’s a difficult question, and I’m going to try to give you an answer without giving away too much.

    A roommate, who seemed a little shaken up after finishing it, asked me to read it so we could discuss. He didn’t give me any indication as to the subject matter. He only told me that he had found the name after trolling a message board (much like this one) and finding that someone listed it as the scariest book they’d ever read.

    The last day of reading it I woke up at 3:00 thinking about one of the main characters and their situation. I had to know what happened so I could stop thinking about it. I finished it at 5:00.

    TGND doesn’t really have any gore in it. Ketchum, from what I gather in synopses of his other works, writes from the POV that his characters and plots could be real. He doesn’t have mutated bats or sentient cars. His realistic stance on fiction makes it push the limits of what scary is. Sort of the “what goes on in your neighbors house is scarier than your wildest dreams” kind of thing. When he makes you care about the characters the events are happening to, it’s even worse.

    Obviously I’ve gained something from reading it. There is a post-modern movement going on in horror fiction, and Ketchum is at the helm. The themes that run through his work are well placed and well meaning. I certainly don’t regret reading it. If it kept my attention to the end he was doing something right. I can’t imagine what it must be like to sit in front of his typewriter and pour out the words that he does, though. I’d never sleep.

    So, Mat, if you don’t mind risking a few sleepless nights in order to read a book that will actually affect you, go for it. There’s always the chance you won’t be bothered by it. It’s your risk, though, and if you take it I recommend going into it blind like I did.

  • Mat

    That’s intrigued me enough to want to get it. I typically don’t mind gore in any form. I usually wake up after a nightmare feeling exhilerated and wishing I was still dreaming.

  • I just hope you don’t come back to this page and flame me for it 🙂


  • Mat

    Flame you! If it sucks I’m coming after you! But don’t worry I have a very large stack of books I want to read before I go looking for that one.

  • valerie

    I read Diary and it was ok. Im doing a book report on it for my English class. Its a good book to do a report on. I enjoyed it. I would read one page after another and I couldnt stop even if I had to do something else. Chuch Palahniuk is a gread writter and author.

  • andrea

    mrbenning just because you know how critisize doesnt compensate for your lack of abililty to do anything productive

  • EmZig

    I am a young inspired writer. A friend recommended the book Fight Club, that I overly enjoyed. After that, I began to become hooked on Palahniuk. I’ve learned a lot so far. I enjoyed reading your opinion about the author because there’s not many people that can look at the series of novels like we can.

  • I just finished Diary, and I honestly didn’t find a lot in common with Fight Club aside from the macabre activities of the characters. I’m sure that if I read a little below the surface, I would find some similarities, but I was a little too freaked out by what Misty went through. Survivor is next, but this may be my last Palahniuk for a while.