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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction

by Chuck Palahniuk

(Doubleday, $24.95, 261 pages, hardcover; published in August 2003.)

The jacket copy for Diary informs readers that Chuck Palahniuk is embarked on the cover scan"twenty-first-century reinvention of the horror novel." This ambitious enterprise began with his previous novel, Lullaby, the first Palahniuk work to involve the supernatural. Earlier Palahniuk novels such as Fight Club and Invisible Monsters certainly had their share of horrific ideas, but they stayed clear of the fantastic.

In Diary, Misty, an art student, is seduced by a bizarrely unsavoury young man. He tricks her into getting pregnant. They get married and move to his homestead, the strange island community of Waytansea. There, she finds herself at the centre of a series of complex and gruesome rituals. As usual with Palahniuk, not everything is what it appears to be, nor does everyone have a firm grasp of their own identity.

Palahniuk's startlingly engaging voice has stayed fairly consistent so far, and, by now, it's starting to lose its freshness. The idiosyncratic phrasings that seemed to so well capture the bizarre inner lives of his earlier characters have now lost their gleam, pulled out yet again regardless of whether or not they fit the narrator at hand (Palahniuk's novels are always first-person narratives). Palahniuk needs to learn to whistle another tune.

Not that Diary isn't enjoyable. Palahniuk is a clever storyteller, and he's masterfully adept at keeping his tale interesting. But he's beginning to feel like a one-trick magician. Sure, it's a very good trick, and he knows how to spin it a bit differently for each new performance. But, after a while, the audience wants a new show.

As for reinventing the horror novel, this doesn't even come close to being that radical. It's darkly humourous entertainment, but not meaty enough to satisfy its stated ambitions.

Originally published in
The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 20 September 2003.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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