I have heard often enough that ‘art is truth’ or that fiction is a lie which presents truth, and in considering why this is so, I propose that it is suffering which resides at the heart of the novel and creates the bridge between reality and art. The experience of suffering, which is universally relatable, provides realism. Hence suffering inspires the reader’s sympathy to create reality in the novel.
Chuck Palahniuk, whose most famous work to-date is Fight Club, wrote an epistolary work entitled Diary which follows Misty Wilmot, a middle-aged wife, mother, and hotel waitress, as she deals with life after her husband’s attempted suicide. Palahniuk writes Misty’s perspective as a diary; each entry is addressed to Misty’s comatose husband, making the correspondence decidedly one-sided. The plot of Diary is intricate and implausible—and requires several suspensions of belief.’ Misty, according to the inhabitants of Waytansea Island, is the fulfillment of a prophecy:
Someone…would marry a woman who’d make the Wilmot family and his whole community wealthy enough that none of them would have to work…every four generations, a boy from the island would meet a woman he’d have to marry. A young art student. Like an old fairy tale. He’d bring her home, and she’d paint so well it would make Waytansea Island rich for another hundred years. He’d sacrifice his life, but it was just one life. Just once every four generations. (Palahniuk 206)
This ‘prophecy’ is fulfilled when Misty’s mother-in-law poisons her, convinces Misty that her daughter has drowned, and traps her inside the Waytansea Hotel with her art. Like Pamela, Misty attempts escape, but this ends in disaster. This postmodern twist to the familiar plot of a damsel in distress has the female protagonist, the “damsel,” not saved but rather controlled and mentally, emotionally, and physically destroyed.
The climax of the novel occurs when Misty discovers the reality of Waytansea Island: locked in Room 313 of the Waytansea hotel is the secret of the island; Misty’s husband, Peter Wilmot, an architect and secretly gay, sealed the room after defacing the walls with scrawled messages in messy ink such as “I don’t love Misty Marie but she doesn’t deserve to be tortured” and “we have to find a new way to save our way of life. We can’t keep harvesting people. This is ritual mass murder and I won’t condone it” (Palahniuk 229).
Misty’s artistic reincarnation becomes a vehicle for suffering because—according to Waytansea Island’s inhabitants—suffering promotes great art. The sealed Room 313 of the Waytansea Hotel represents much the same concept as Pamela’s bedchamber—un-violated, the protagonist is safe from emotional suffering. Yet once the bedroom is breached, and suffering charges in for Pamela, or filters out of the writing on the wall for Misty, the reader feels sympathy for the character, unlikely though the scenario may be.
When Misty completes her 100 paintings and her blindfold is removed (the mystical nature of Misty’s talent allows to her form perfect shapes without the use of sight), she opens her eyes in the hotel room and sees familiar objects: Peter’s pillow, her curtains, her jewelry. This is her reality. At the beginning of the novel, she writes in her diary, “So people wouldn’t say she was crazy, she made her life about the art instead of the visions. Really, she just wanted the skill to record them. To make her imagined world more and more accurate. More real” (11). By the end of the novel, Misty’s imagined world becomes her reality, but only because “Maybe people have to really suffer before they can risk doing what they love…Inspiration needs disease, injury, madness.” (64-65) For Misty Wilmot, her suffering creates artistic inspiration, but it also brings her the reality of the island, a reality to gruesome for her to deal with. For the reader, the horror of Misty’s reality shocks us into sympathizing with her and experiencing her reality.
If art is truth, then in the realities of Misty, suffering is the words that form that truth. Reality in the novel is often questioned because of the possibility of an unreliable narrator and ‘writing in the moment, but the suffering experienced by these two characters, especially as it is presented in or by a bedroom, allows the audience to sympathize with Misty Wilmot, and thereby creates a reality experienced by both character and reader.
The best closing sentiment I can offer is not my own words, but Misty’s. In her diary, Misty writes, “It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace” (Palahniuk 213).
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Works Used: Palahniuk, Chuck. Diary: A Novel. New York : Anchor Books, 2003. Print.