Dear Chuck, are you there? It’s me, Michelle. I’ve just finished your newest publication. I want to tell you that I enjoyed the sarcasm and wit of your novel, but worry that you are relying on gratuitous sexual images to draw in more readers. Your writing can stand on its own without that. Stick with your eccentric characters- it is your strong suit as a writer.
Chuck Palahniuk continues to push boundaries with his latest novel, Damned. The story revolves around Madison, a thirteen year old girl who must navigate her way through the social and cultural norms that make up Hell. She comes from a life of privilege, her mother being a movie star and her father a wealthy investor. When death arrives unexpectedly, her homes all over the globe are replaced by an existence in Hell, where she is surrounded by mountains of finger and toe nail clippings, demons who can be bribed with candy and a job as a telemarketing market researcher. (I actually had this job for about eight months when I was in college. I got really good at asking people about the chips and cracks in their windshields and how people felt about a variety of political candidates. It really was hellish!)
Palahniuk is not known for treading gently over possibly touchy topics and he doesn’t attempt to garner such a reputation with Damned. Everything from the personal pleasure of mythical demons to where aborted babies end up is within the limits of his writing. Witty and sarcastic and slightly sacrilegious can all be entertaining parts of a story, but when too much of the foundation is laid with them, the story itself gets to be a bit shaky.
Maddy and her fellow underworld dwellers are treasure troves when it comes to characters. They are all young, dead and energetic. As Maddy begins to explore who she is in death, it forces her to look back on who she was in life and where she lost her concept of freewill along the way. As the tale was wrapping up, I felt like I was just getting to a point with her where she was coming alive. (Terrible pun. I’m sorry.) Rather than dwelling on trying to be edgy, I would love to have seen Madison and the other characters progress through their personal transformations more thoroughly.
The book is definitely not for the easily offended. Once the reader gets past a bit of the vileness, Hell fills itself out as a place not of fire and brimstone but of bats and insects and dethroned gods, it becomes an amusing place where most of us are slated to spend eternity. If you’ve ever left a bathroom without washing your hands, count yourself in. If you have exceeded the limit for how many times you’ve honked your car horn, you also have a one way pass. (This pretty much condemns all drivers in China.) It doesn’t take much for your soul to be condemned to working as an eternal telemarketer.
Gut-turning descriptions of Hell’s scenery aside, the book attempts to take an interesting look at what the afterlife might hold in store for the majority of Earth’s inhabitants. The wit and sarcasm and satire are appreciated, but at times just seem to be trying too hard. Chuck Palahniuk’s Damned earns: