Palahniuk shows more sympathy for the Devil than for liberals in this book. Which is not to say that he comes off as being an axe-grinding conservative (I have no idea what Palahniuk's politics are), but the target of his satire in Damned
is Hell and Hollywood, and he makes Hell seem like the more desirable place.
A word to all the Goodreads reviewers who classified this book as "Young Adult" -- are you nuts? Did you actually read this book? Or do you just assume that any book with a teenage protagonist must be YA?
(Yup - I just checked and apparently 30 people think Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
is a children's book because the main character is a nine-year-old. Context
The protagonist of Damned
is Madison, the 13-year-old daughter of two super-rich ultra-liberals, a billionaire and a movie star. Palahniuk is pitch-perfect if vicious in his skewering of poor, fat Madison's vaguely-loving but utterly narcissistic parents, right down to that perfect Hollywood brat name, "Madison." Initially I thought they were all just going to be caricatures, but while Palahniuk does throw every cruel, satirical stereotype there is at Madison and her parents, from their brood of fashionable adopted foreign babies to their much-abused Somalian maids to their brainless orthodox leftism, it develops that Madison, at least, is a real person, and pretty much the sort of person you'd expect a girl who might have been fundamentally decent but raised in an over-privileged moral vacuum to be: she's a horrible, annoying brat with occasional flashes of humanity.
Madison's parents leave her alone in a hotel room with one of her many adopted siblings, whom they collect like Paris Hilton collects purse-dogs, and she winds up dead. How exactly it happened is one of the revelations as the book progresses, but most of it takes place in Hell, which Madison entertainingly guides the reader through accompanied by several other vapid, damned teenagers.
I have yet to understand what makes Chuck Palahniuk such a cult favorite. From what I can see, his books have a certain cleverness to them, usually cleverness piled atop cleverness, but it's a clever that substitutes for any depth or lasting impact, and sometimes he takes shortcuts on the way to clever, which is where you get drink-spraying images like a prepubescent girl masturbating a giant demoness with the severed (but still living) head of one of her fellow damned souls. I mean, really, Chuck? What was the point
of that scene other than to prove that you could write it?
But I am being a little unfair here. There was a point, which is that Damned
is a riff on Inferno
. And The Breakfast Club
. And Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
And also Gulliver's Travels
and probably half a dozen other literary influences besides the ones I spotted. Palahniuk is clever and well-read. And I enjoyed Damned
. Parts of it really are pretty damned funny. It's not a work of genius, but Palahniuk's version of Hell, where The English Patient
plays in an endless loop, people get damned for breaking any one of hundreds of arbitrary rules (like peeing in a swimming pool more than twice in your life, so as Madison says, most people are already damned to Hell by age five), and damned souls make up the majority of telemarketers who call you during dinner (you knew this, didn't you?), has the sort of bizarre, macabre, and uneasily funny tone of a genuine satire.
Madison's story is one of eventually coming to terms with the fact that she is, well, damned. In the process she practically takes over Hell and also turns out to be really good at telemarketing.
This book is a little bent, like the author, but if the sense of humor I describe does not put you off, you will probably enjoy it.