“Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.”
— John Milton, Paradise Lost
First I need to be honest about my love of Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel “Fight Club.” That book, along with the film, is like a religion to me. I can quote it. I have the book, the DVD, the Blu-ray, the soundtrack and I even have a shirt with a bar of pink soap printed on the front. So I am a little biased in favor of Palahniuk.
However, even an obsessed fan like myself found his novels to be a case of diminishing returns. His previous novel, “Pygmy,” was unreadable.
So I approached Palahniuk’s new novel, “Damned,” with a bit of trepidation. It turns out that, while quite flawed, “Damned” is his best work in years.
The novel is told from the perspective of thirteen-year-old Madison who begins her story with “Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison,” echoing Judy Blume. Madison, it turns out, has just died and is now a prisoner in Hell. Her story moves back and forth from her previous life as the daughter of a famous actress and a successful businessman to her present death and adventures in Hell. She is an overweight girl who has a chip on her shoulder about everyone. When she dies, she is friendless.
It turns out that she enjoys Hell much more than her life on earth.
She brings together a group of troubled teens, a punk rocker, a geek, a rich girl and a football player. If it reminds the reader of the “Breakfast Club,” that should be no surprise. The novel, in an annoying fashion, constantly makes this connection. They escape from their cells and travel through Hell, eventually finding work as telemarketers.
It turns out that Hell is very much like the fundamentalist Christian view. Those who do not conform to that branch of Christianity get to spend eternity in the underworld.
Palahniuk works hard write as a teenage girl, but it is clearly his voice most of the time. But it is not a total failure on his part. Madison, who seems a bit too old in the beginning, starts to shine as she begins to take control of what appears to be an uncontrollable situation. The story takes some unexpected turns and ends on a perfect note, leaving the reader wanting more.
Palahniuk’s prose has always been a bit subversive and he always looks for ways to offend the general public. “Damned” features rivers of feces and a sea of sperm. However, if you can handle a scene in which Madison stops a giant female demon from killing her by sexually pleasing it with the decapitated head of a blue-haired punk rocker, you should be fine.
I recommend “Damned” for its entertainment value and some great twists. But you have been warned.
247 pages, hardcover