Book Review of Damned By Chuck Palahniuk
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"Death is the One Big Mistake that none of us EVER plans to make."
Chuck Palahniuk's novel, Damned, is not for the faint of heart or for those without a sick and twisted sense of humor. In it, a thirteen year old girl, Madison Spenser, reveals her own tale as she travels through Hell after dying of a marijuana overdose. Hell is where the floors are filled with awful candies, where The English Patient is played over and over, and toenails pile up into hills while sperm lies in an ever-expanding lake. It's also where the damned either sit in self loathing and misery over their fate, take part in fetish internet porn, or work as telemarketers, interrupting meals across the globe, just to ask about safety pins and toothpicks.
What I found especially funny was not only the people little Maddie runs into in Hell but also her group that she bands together. With early allusions to The Breakfast Club leading up to her first meeting with Babbette (the cheerleader/prom queen), it isn't surprising to realize once she also meets Leonard (the nerd), Patterson (the jock), and Archer (the rebel) that she's found herself within her own Breakfast Club in Hell. I guess that makes Maddie the outsider, although she seems to have labeled herself the smart fat kid.
All in all, despite the humor and the playfulness of it, this book is disgusting. Halfway through it, I almost put it down, but instead I kept trudging through and in the end it wasn't bad, although I would say it wasn't really worth it either. It wasn't a waste of time, but it's not something I'd recommend to anyone I know.
"No, it's not fair, but what makes earth feel like Hell is our expectation that it should feel like Heaven. Earth is Earth. Dead is dead."
Don't get me wrong, I love Chuck Palahniuk; from his classic Fight Club to Survivor and Invisible Monsters. This is the first book of his that I have read that has made me want to stop reading it and just toss it aside. I can get a humor that makes you want to gag but still leaves you chuckling as your else dart through each line but I think here Palahniuk may have gone a little too far beyond my own taste.
For the first couple of chapters, I thought it was laugh out loud funny. Then as I read along and things started to get a little out of hand while the story continued to run along like a hamster in its wheel going nowhere, I got a little tired. Once past the halfway point, things got a little better but in the end I just didn't feel like I got all that much out of the reading.
Chuck Palahniuk Brief Bio and Book Summaries
- Chuck Palahniuk: Writing for the Moment
"I wanted to write about the moment when your addictions no longer hide the truth from you. When your whole life breaks down. That's the moment when you have to somehow choose what your life is going to be about."
Damned Sequel by Chuck Palahniuk
In October 2013, expect to find the sequel to Damned, entitled Doomed, if you are amongst those who enjoyed this book.
"If the living are haunted by the dead, then the dead are haunted by their own mistakes."
Amidst the aspects of the novel I didn't like, there are good points that Palahniuk makes. With a Hollywood actress for a mother and an equally rich and successful father, Maddie is an only child, with a lot of adopted siblings sent off to boarding schools once their five minutes of fame is over and their parents lose that spotlight again. She is spoiled but hates her life as she tries to reach out beyond the confines of the tinted windows and and constant plane rides all over the world to discover herself, a search that continues even after death.
She can see how fake her parents are in showing that they are environmentally conscious and yet taking private jets everywhere, something not uncommon in those we see in the media. She also sees the benefit in growing up with some kind of belief system in something bigger than herself, something she missed out on since her parents do not believe in religion of any sort and didn't allow her to either, giving her pills and drugs to experiment with instead. Perhaps, she ponders, that's why she ended up in Hell, or maybe it's because she overdosed on marijuana.
At the end of the novel, Maddie discovers who she truly is, and perhaps her real origins, although she learns this latter part from the Prince of Lies himself so we aren't really sure how accurate that may be. I liked that despite the disgusting horror of Hell, Palahniuk made it even more than a place of torture for the character to experience and the audience to read, and in the end made it somewhere where people go to learn to get past the shallow aesthetics and materialism they enjoyed in life and learn more about themselves.
This novel was interesting but I would give it a three out of five stars and warn not only about the graphic aspects of the novel but also the fact that it may not keep your desire to read it very high so you might have to push yourself. If you're a Palahniuk fan like me, just beware that it's not nearly as great as his other novels.
© 2012 LisaKoski
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