Chuck Palahniuk, with his thumb-in-your-eye themes -- fear and chaos, environmental ruin, the rhinestone artifice of the average human's soul -- is the kind of wondrously pointed writer you dread reading. Cracking the pages of ''Fight Club,'' ''Choke,'' or ''Lullaby'' is like winning a set of shiny, sharp cutlery...and discovering you must use it to gut yourself.
''Diary'' is neither as despairing or incisive as these. It is, in fact, the closest thing to a plain old mystery Palahniuk has ever written. Flabby, unspectacular art student Misty Marie meets Peter Wilmot, who sweeps her back home to fictional Waytansea Island. Once the nesting ground of elite families, cash-poor Waytansea is now pimping itself to outsiders. With condoms washing up on shore and billboards sprouting like ragweed, Peter goes loopy. Soon he's in a coma, after sucking too-much-but-not-enough carbon monoxide in a closed garage.
The tale is told by Misty in the form of a ''coma diary,'' and as it unspools we realize the most compelling person here is the one we'd notice least: Misty herself, who suddenly begins painting, freakily, compulsively -- blindly -- under the not-so-innocent encouragement of the island families. What is she creating? Why is she getting those mesmerizing headaches? Who's scribbling mysterious messages -- inside books, on the underside of tables -- about her well-being? Well, as the island name indicates, wait and see.
This being Palahniuk, there are deeper motifs: our need to leave a mark (through the beauty of art or the blight of a landscape), the constant recycling of ideas (and, perhaps, souls), creativity flowering from pain. But while Misty's paintings are ultimately assembled into one mind-bending masterwork, Palahniuk's themes never entirely cohere. That said, it's pretty stunning, funky stuff, whether every last nail is in or not.