Damned by Chuck Palahniuk [Book]
February 10, 2014 Leave a comment
Madison is the thirteen-year-old daughter of a narcissistic film star and a billionaire. Abandoned at her Swiss boarding school over Christmas, she dies over the holiday, presumably of a marijuana overdose. The last thing she remembers is getting into a town car and falling asleep. Then she’s waking up in Hell. Literally. Madison soon finds that she shares a cell with a motley crew of young sinners: a cheerleader, a jock, a nerd, and a punk rocker, united by their doomed fate, like an afterschool detention for the damned. Together they form an odd coalition and march across the unspeakable landscape of Hell–full of used diapers, dandruff, WiFi blackout spots, evil historical figures, and one horrific call center–to confront the Devil himself.
I must begin this piece by clearly stating this: There is absolutely so much to love about this book. It is clever, original, and absolutely brilliant. And though it may rank at the bottom of my favorites from Mr. Palahniuk, that is still sort of like being the least kind deed done by Gandhi or Dr. Martin Luther King among a plethora of amazing things done, right?
I originally intended for this line to be at the end of this piece, but decided that it must be made clear that I, like critics, readers and Portlanders alike, absolutely adore what Palahniuk has done, and even if a book is not “my favorite from him”, in no way makes this a bad book at all. I’ve read some pretty shitty books. But this is definitely not one of them. I find it sort of ironic that I managed to read a Hemingway and Palahniuk book, one after another, and found them both to be my least favorite of their works. In the simplest terms, and most convenient definitions (get it?), reading the words of folks like Hemingway or Palahniuk is like the old saying about pizza or sex: even if it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. So, there I said it. I can now continue on bashing the work of a legend who I could never even dream of being compared to, what with my constant grammatical errors and studious love for ending sentences with prepositions.
That being said, as if it hasn’t already, Damned wasn’t one of my favorite Palahniuk books. That being said, again, I must also admit that I have never read Fight Club. I know, it seems as though it is a must, as every book cover of one of his works states “author of Fight Club”, and it spawned the brilliant film directed by David Fincher and stars Mr. Angelina Jolie, Edward Furlong’s brother from American History X, the super hot, moody dude with really cool hair from My So Called Life, and Mr. Paradise By the Dashboard Light himself. But, I simply have not gotten around to it. But I have read much of Palahniuk’s work, enough to discover that the proverbial dick sucking that the critics give him every time he moves or blinks is all highly deserved. The man is a genius with them words, and is obviously one of the finest novelists of our time.
But, Damned just wasn’t what I was expecting to hear from Chuck. Sure it is clever and littered with a wonderfully new concept of what hell must look like, involves a brilliant cohesion of John Hughes and Dante in one, and evokes the idea that all sugar laced treats belong in hell (a theory in which I a can jump on board with). There are so many beautiful things about this book, and as you would expect, it is highly controversial. But, my major complaint is that Mr. Palahniuk seemed to be more focused on the controversy he is known to provoke, rather than emphasizing on the brilliant writing he is also widely known for. I mean, this is the guy who once wrote a book about a former porn star who is beset upon the idea of setting the record for having the most dicks inserted in to her in one concurrent setting, and managed to make it a beautiful tale that was also sorrowful and almost tear jerking. Therefore, the concept of a thirteen year old girl being sent to hell and going on an adventure should have been easy, right? I don’t put the blame on Chuck himself, entirely. The concept of “what is hell like” is one that has been played out time and time again. Even as I look back on one of my favorite depictions of Hell, from Woody Allen’s film Deconstructing Harry, I find the concept of Billy Crystal being the devil and using air conditioning to “fuck up the ozone layer”, is now pretty corny, but hey, it was the 90’s!
I believe my real issue here is just how non-specific Palahniuk’s topic was in this book. Specificity is his fucking gold mine. His works are so strangely bizarre and original that a reader may find themselves thinking aloud, “How does he come up with this shit. This is the man who came up with the concept of groups of average joe’s getting together to beat the shit out of each other and the idea of a man pretending to choke on his food in restaurants only to be saved by a patron saint who feels obliged to send the poor fool money for the rest of his life. In fact, the only “typical” concepts I can imagine coming from Palahniuk in days passed would probably be in Tell All and Survivor. Bitchy old actresses and plane crashes being the norm in the literary world that is. Yet, he manages to put a science ficitony type twist to the end of all of these tales that is absolutely mind blowing.
Maybe that is the problem here. The concept of living in hell is an open ended discussion that could go on for hours, which may have left our dear writer with far too much space to move around, when he is used to a more specific and cramp space to create. And perhaps this is a reasonable explanation as to why there is actually a sequel to this book already on the shelves entitled Doomed. I know that I will ultimately read this book as well despite my dissertation here about how I did not like this book. I will read it not for the sake of redemption by Chuck that I’m certain he doesn’t feel he needs, but more for a continuation of his own unique and hilarious interpretation of the world of Hell. As I previously stated, there just may have been too much space for Chuck to move around with using such an age old concept as Hell. Therefore, a creative mind like Palahniuk could probably write more volumes about living in Hell than one person could enjoy in a lifetime. Shit, when I consider the fact that Hell is as real as a place as Narnia or The Place of Dead Roads, the possibilities actually seem endless. It is an empty canvas just waiting for Palahniuk to splash with paint made from the blood of the wicked. And I will continue to respect his decisions to follow this path. But, I might be waiting for him to move back to his old ways and means.
Note: 2014 is the first year for book reviews at Trainwreck’d Society. We will be making a valiant effort to read and review at least 100 books. This is review #3. Be sure to stay in touch and be on the lookout for further reviews throughout 2014. Be sure to let us know if we are falling behind. For a complete list of book reviews, click HERE. Enjoy!