Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

Having read Fight Club and Choke, I have high expectations for Palahniuk's novels. I think that's one of the biggest reasons I didn't like this book as much as I could have. While still entertaining and witty, it just wasn't what I had built it up to be in my mind. I enjoyed it, just not as much as I thought I would, which is why Damned earned itself 3 out of 5 stars.

From the publisher:
“Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison,” declares the whip-tongued thirteen-year-old narrator of Damned, Chuck Palahniuk’s subversive new work of fiction. The daughter of a narcissistic film star and a billionaire, Madison is abandoned at her Swiss boarding school over Christmas, while her parents are off touting their new projects and adopting more orphans. She dies over the holiday of a mari­juana overdose—and the next thing she knows, she’s in Hell. Madison shares her cell with a motley crew of young sinners that is almost too good to be true: a cheerleader, a jock, a nerd, and a punk rocker, united by fate to form the six-feet-under version of everyone’s favorite detention movie. Madison and her pals trek across the Dandruff Desert and climb the treacherous Mountain of Toenail Clippings to confront Satan in his citadel. All the popcorn balls and wax lips that serve as the currency of Hell won’t buy them off.

This is the afterlife as only Chuck Palahniuk could imagine it: a twisted inferno where The English Patient plays on end­less repeat, roaming demons devour sinners limb by limb, and the damned interrupt your dinner from their sweltering call center to hard-sell you Hell. He makes eternal torment, well, simply divine.

My thoughts:
Basically, the story is about 13 year old Madison Spencer, the daughter of a celebrity couple who dies and is sent to hell after a marijuana overdose (seriously?) She writes in the form of a Judy Blume novel, addressing Satan with each chapter: "Are you there Satan? It's me, Madison." Some of her observations are about the goings-on in Hell, while other comments are just her gripes about life and her complaints about how people can be Miss Whorey Vanderhoors and whatnot. The fact that the first half of the book was interrupted every other chapter by comments about how yes she's thirteen, but she's not stupid and knows what certain words are, really got on my nerves.

I did enjoy Palahniuk's vision of Hell, where candy is currency and the demons travel around devouring sinners, who just pop right back up after being eaten. The landmarks, lakes, and other obstacles that the small group comes across are both disgusting and inventive, and it takes quite the imagination to come up with. What's more interesting to me, having a deep interest in mythology and ancient civilizations, I enjoyed the concept that deities from each civilization are present after being overpowered by a new civilization who replaces the religion in the area. If there was any real way to conceptualize the toppling of a religion, it's by sending the losing side to Hell to become demons.

I didn't know where the story was going until she went on her adventure across Hell with Babette, Patterson, Archer, and Leonard, who played a role in the first part of the book but then kind of fell to the wayside. Why were they traveling? How did they all end up in Hell? It turns out they want to appeal Madison's damnation, which seems silly because she didn't seem to dislike it all that much. Especially by the end of the book, anyway. I would much rather have preferred if Madison was a bit less annoying, and the other characters played a bigger role and were more involved toward the end of the book. I happened to like Archer and Babette, and would've been interested to learn more about the whole Breakfast Club gang.

This all being said, once the plot picked up and they were on their way, I found it much more difficult to put the book down. Madison became less obnoxious, and I started to get a feel for the main points of the novel. I would still prefer to have read one of Palahniuk's earlier works, but this was not a bad way to pass the time.

- Justin

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