Friday, January 6, 2012

Well, I’ll Be...: A Review of “Damned”

By Chip Schrader
Staff Book Reviewer
Chuck Palahniuk’s latest novel, “Damned,” combines themes of several of his previous works: the grotesque depiction of American celebrity he mastered in “Tell All,” the taboo of basic human drives from within “Choke,” and the supernatural elements that made his masterpiece “Lullaby” such a page turner. Having several of his books adapted to film, including his breakthrough novel “Fight Club,” Palahniuk is a staple on must-read lists worldwide. A note on local facts, he has stopped in Portsmouth during two of his recent book tours.
The titular “Damned” refers to the main character, Madison, the thirteen-year-old daughter of “Brangelina”-esque celebrities who is said to have died from an accidental overdose. Beyond dying early, Madison has somehow fallen from ‘grace’ and been sentenced to spend eternity in the “lake of fire.”
From the opening chapter, this concept treads upon the hokey side because of its lack of proper imagery of Hades and its depiction of a teenage rivalry between two condemned souls. As the story progress, Madison meets a group of friends that prompts a reference the “Breakfast Club.” There is the jock, the geek, the prom queen, the punk and Madison herself, the undesirable girl or recluse—she compares herself to the Ally Sheedy-played recluse of the famous John Hughes film.
Further on in the story, we learn that the reasons the characters have ended up in hell range from an offside penalty to stealing bread for a hungry family. Much like Dante, Palahniuk masterfully inserts dozens of other reasons for condemnation: saying the ultimate swear word more than 700 times in a lifetime, practicing Buddhism at any point and honking a horn too many times—which condemns cab drivers on the spot.
Humorous anecdotes like the aforementioned make an otherwise slim early narrative both fun and engaging.
Further into the book Madison endeavors to take over Hell. Her nerdy friend knows the origin and taxonomy of each demon, and the readers are treated to history lessons in world religion, as demons are merely gods of dead religion. Through this trek through the underworld, they travel through a river of clipped fingernails and various other unbecoming collections of human waste in order for Madison to reach her goal.
“Damned” slowly evolves into an adventure-story that makes up for a slow beginning. A story dependent upon character set-up, layered themes flesh out the narrative as Madison’s story unfolds. The scenarios are hilarious and outlandish—though sometimes become so explicit that readers may envision the adult-oriented cartoons of R. Crumb. Especially during at least one scenario that remains too graphic to depict in this publication.
As readers laugh their way through this book, much of the satire and jabbing seems both indulgent and unnecessary. As the book winds down to its last pages, though, Palahniuk proves his skill as a master satirist as he crosses every “T,” dots every “i,” and proves each pun intentional.
“Damned” is a fun and unique romp from a modern disciple. Kurt Vonnegut’s latest—though a tad more adult-oriented than some may think—is ultimately a solid read. (Courtesy image)