by Chuck Palahniuk (pub date 10/18/11)
“I can’t believe there’s no wifi in Hell…”
I’ve been an avid Chuck Palahniuk fan for twelve years. Yeah, I’m dating myself a little. When I read Fight Club after having seen the film, I was hooked. Since then, the day a new Chuck book is released is like a mini Christmas, and I always move his books straight to the top of my ‘to read’ pile. Each of his books is unique in its own way, yet each book is laden with his own brand of satire and his own unmistakable writing style.
Now Damned is out, and it seems to be one of Palahniuk’s more divisive novels, Pygmy being another example. Fans seem to be unsure of what to make of it (at least according to the Amazon reviews), and I think that’s because Damned is part of a trilogy, and the story isn’t over yet.
The plot of this book is deceptively simple: Madison is a 13-year-old girl who finds herself in Hell after having died of a suspected marijuana overdose. Overweight and shy, Madison wasn’t quite the ideal daughter her narcissistic, ultra-hippie movie star mother wants her to be. In fact, Madison’s mother hardly noticed her at all, having shipped her off to a Swiss boarding school while spending her time advancing her career and collecting adopted children from third-world countries.
But now in Hell, Madison faces a whole new set of challenges. Teaming up with a “Breakfast Club” of new friends, she navigates Hell’s vast terrain in an effort to find out how she ended up there in the first place.
It was very interesting that Palahniuk chose to write as a teenage girl. It was new for him, and I think he managed to capture some of the angst and isolation that someone like Madison would feel. Like most of Palahniuk’s characters, Madison is someone who finds herself in an unusual situation, and from that makes a choice about how she will react to that situation. That’s where the simple plot ends and the symbolism begins, with the pervasive themes of love and death, which is what is so great about Palahniuk’s writing.
Palahniuk’s description of Hell is both hilarious and disgusting: a wasteland filled with such sights as the Great Ocean of Wasted Sperm, where people are forced to spend eternity as telemarketers and The English Patient plays on constant repeat. Soon Madison begins to take control of her situation, and starts taking on some of Hell’s most notorious residents while coming to terms with the ups and downs in her own (previous) life. Her frankness and caustic sense of humor are what make her enjoyable:
“Yes, I’m thirteen years old and dead and doing child labor in Hell–but at least I’m not whining and crying about my situation.”
Damned wasn’t my favorite, but for me it was still good and definitely worth reading. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy, which supposedly will feature Madison’s journeys through Purgatory and Heaven. If you’re a Palahniuk fan, I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Damned is funny, offensive, gross, and satirical–everything that I love about Palahniuk’s work!