This is not Chuck Palahniuk’s most recent title, but it is my own personal first taste. I am so late to the Palahniuk train that it is a little sad. I first picked up Damned over the summer from a table marked “Books for the Beach”. Since the beach was where I was headed I thought why not. I had seen “Fight Club”, the film based off the first, and most acclaimed book of Palahniuk’s. This film is a rite of passage for most students at a Creative Arts school, so I thought I would give this book a go.
Unfortunately, the shoreline of Misquamicut was riddled with pasty season-pass holders strewn out like deer hide on a tanning rack, and the almost constant bombardment of kicked sand did not make for a healthy and productive reading environment. Therefore, my dive into the world of Palahniuk was postponed until now. It is with pleasure that I report, however late it may have arrived, my first experience has been a remarkable one.
The book that would have been published before Fight Club, Invisible Monsters, was rejected at first for being too disturbing. Damned is equal in its veracity, proving that Palahniuk is unapologetic in his approach to writing. He topples pomp and circumstance onto its back like a farmer’s cow to reveal the swollen, puss filled underbelly of humanity, divulging its most sinister, frightening, and absurd truths with a snarky and almost harsh sense of humor that doesn’t leave you time to feel sheepish. Confronted with your own dark truths you may begin to feel guilty for seeing yourself in the pitiably flawed characters that Palahniuk has weaved, but my instincts tell me that is exactly how he wants you to feel. Your choices as a reader are simple. Either you accept your own human error and move on, or better yet, you learn to laugh at yourself.
“It’s not true that your life flashes before your eyes when you die. At least, not all of it. Some of your life might flash. Other portions of your life it might take you years and years to recall. That, I think, is the function of Hell: It’s a place of remembering. Beyond that, the purpose of Hell is not so much to forget the details of our lives as it is to forgive them.” ― Chuck Palahniuk
The tone of Damned is one in which serious issues are explored with vulgar and unforgiving humor. In this case, satire and Satan go hand in hand. Take as you will the landscape of Hell, a setting decorated by the swamp of partial-birth abortions and an ocean of wasted sperm. Such is the place that Maddison happens to find herself. Alongside a motley crew of hellish misfits, thirteen-year-old Madison begins to unravel the mystery of her death, and seek the truth regarding her eternal damnation. Unfortunately, Hell is a rather large place, and its filing system is pretty clogged up. For newly dead Madison this means to get herself noticed it will take schmoozing with some demons, building a reputation as a reputable call center operator, and bribery involving chocolate bars.
“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. You’ll find out for yourself soon enough. It won’t help the situation for you to get all upset.” ― Chuck Palahniuk
Madison spends months making a name for herself, kicking Hitler’s ass, and assembling the largest army ever seen under one little girl’s command. At the height of her popularity, her appeal arrives, and the results send her spiraling into an existential or rather post-existential crisis. Madison puzzles over her next move, but there are still many more mysteries to be solved, and a forgotten past yet to be uncovered.
“Hope is something really tough and tenacious you have to give up. It’s an addiction to break.” ― Chuck Palahniuk
Damned is all about taking charge of our own lives, holding ourselves responsible for the consequences of our actions, whether you believe them to be one for good or bad. It is a book that challenges destiny and asks questions of our freedom of choice. It is a book about life and death, and about what sort of life is worth living.
I’ve given you a small sampling of Damned and the chaos that is scrawled into its pages, but there is little I can say to prepare you. Palahniuk has a knack for misdirection. He will lead you in one way and not only spin you around at the last second, but shove you off a cliff when you get there. Still, you will decide to trust him again and allow him to mislead you every time. You will gladly dive from that cliff, free falling and blindly hurtling towards Hell, ready to have the time of your afterlife.