Failed artist becomes wife of carpenter on picturesque island—then, in Palahniuk’s remarkable sixth novel (after Lullaby, 2002), everything goes to hell.
Actually, Misty Kleinman is not so much a failed artist as a woman who always wanted to draw, went to art school, and never quite got up the gumption to try being an actual artist. She fell into a relationship with Peter Wilmot, the really-off guy at school, and moved with him to Waytansea Island. But that’s not where Palahniuk starts off: instead, he gives us Misty later on, when she has a 12-year-old daughter, Peter is a vegetable in the hospital (thanks to a clumsy suicide attempt), an unglued sense of reality prevails. You see, Waytansea Island is beautiful and has been discovered by wealthy mainlanders who clog the roads, take up space on the ferry, and generally act like human cholesterol, things that hardly make old-family islanders like Peter shiver with delight. Peter took his own revenge in a striking manner: he worked on the houses of mainlanders while they were gone, so that when they returned they found that entire rooms had—disappeared. These rooms were covered in threatening, apocalyptic graffiti and then walled off. Misty keeps getting called out to look at them once they’re uncovered by angered customers—“The woman with the missing closet. The man with his bathroom gone”—and she tries desperately to care, as Peter lies in his coma. A waitress in the island’s grand old hotel, Missy is stuck with her mother-in-law, who has an obsessive interest in when Misty will start to paint again. Misty starts getting ill, something that drives her painting in a way nothing ever has before, and soon she’s able to do little else but paint. Palahniuk restrains his more comic voice to deliver moving passages on inspiration, art, and suffering as a driving force. Only in the end, when things start linking up, does the novel, oddly enough, begin to unravel.
A loose-limbed nightmare both vaporous and all-enveloping: awe-inspiring.