Thursday, February 09, 2012

Review: "Damned" by Chuck Palahniuk

When I’m looking for new reads, a common recommendation that comes up is Chuck Palahniuk, so I picked up his most recent book “Damned” ($24.95, Doubleday) and dug in.

We’re introduced to Madison Spencer, a 13-year-old girl who finds herself in Hell. She assumes that she died from an overdose of marijuana and was damned for it because that’s the last thing that she remembers about her mortal life. She wakes up in a grimy cell and soon makes friends with the other teens in cells around her (apparently all the teenagers in Hell are housed in proximity to each other). When a blue-haired punk kid named Archer picks the locks of their cell with the safety pin from his cheek, their jaunt across the horrific, yet colorful, landscape of Hell begins.

Along the way, we’re treated to plenty of gross-out scenery, a few laugh out loud moments, and, of course, Maddy’s coming of age and discovery of herself just a bit too late.

When I started “Damned,” I thought it was fun and inventive. It seemed the kind of book tailor-made to irritate and downright piss off a lot of people while entertaining others. I can appreciate that. One of my favorite humor novels ever is Christopher Moore’s “Lamb.” Unlike with “Lamb,” the further I went into “Damned,” the novelty wore off a little bit. There were several scenes in the book – one in particular – that were written for pure shock value. That’s a tough sell for me, because it’s very difficult to offend me and even harder to shock me. The scenes didn’t really add anything to the story, and I doubt that, given the concept of the book, anyone who was going to be deeply offended by them got far enough in to read them. You can pretty well decide just by the description of the book whether it’s for you or not, and it seems kind of pointless.

The book reads essentially like Maddy’s diary, as she remembers things from her life and learns things about herself – with little notes to Satan, who she can’t seem to find, tucked in at the beginning of every chapter. The intent is to make “Damned” a warped version of Judy Blume, who gets her share of props from Maddy throughout – sort of. It works sometimes, but sometimes Maddy crosses over into slightly annoying territory.

The culture that Palahniuk creates for Hell is interesting, with candy being its primary currency and the place being the root of all telemarketing. The myriad ways that you can damn yourself are also entertaining – urinating in a swimming pool more than five times, for example, or uttering more than your allotment of 700 uses of the f-word in your lifetime. One hundred percent of journalists, by the way, end up in Hell, which gave me a chuckle.

In the end, I guess “Damned” is about as fun as being condemned to Hell can be, but I had higher expectations for it.

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