Palahniuk Returns to the Afterlife in “Doomed”

“Doomed” by Chuck Palahniuk October 8, 2013 Doubleday, hardcover, 329 pages

“Doomed” by Chuck Palahniuk
October 8, 2013
Doubleday, hardcover, 329 pages

Madison Spencer, dead girl at large, returns in Chuck Palahniuk’s sequel to 2011’s “Damned.” While her previous adventure took place in Hell, the sequel finds her stuck on earth – or purgatory — as a ghost.

This is a Palahniuk novel, so expect difficult-to-predict events and forget anything society considers in good taste. If you can make it past the first chapter, which has a woman throwing a used condom with lipstick and chocolate on the outside of it out of a black Limo’s window after blowing it up and tying it to look like a little balloon man, you’re good to go!

The narrative, told as a series of blogs, jumps from the present, non-corporeal Madison, to the past, which involves a younger Madison staying with her grandparents on a farm. Additionally, blog posts by another character appear, telling an ancient prophecy that Madison appears to be fulfilling.

Like most of Palahniuk’s novels, he throws in some many disparate ideas that it’s amazing that it stays together. Here he has a ghost hunter, a pervert in a bathroom, “Voyage of the Beagle,” a succubus, a religious cult based on Madison’s practical joke from the first book, and a plan that would make a James Bond villain green with envy.

The book is funny in a perverse way. I enjoyed “Damned” for its humor a lot, and “Doomed” continues Palahniuk’s twisted tale of the afterlife. I laughed out loud many times, something I normally never do when I read, even when I type LOL on Facebook.

But “Doomed” suffers from too much time spent in Madison’s past, and its lack of characters for her to be with. Her entourage of dead friends appears briefly, and somewhat enigmatically, in this story, leaving Madison to spend some time with her dead grandmother and a ghost “bounty hunter” named Crescent City. I wanted more of these two characters.

There’s also a subplot about a Madison doppelganger that Palahniuk builds up, but it the payoff is anticlimactic.

“Doomed” suffers from the problem with many planned trilogies; the second story simply serves the purpose of building the reader up for the final chapter. The finale certainly whetted my appetite for the final installment, but I felt too much was being held from me during this story.

Do I recommend “Doomed”? Sure. If you are a fan of Palahniuk, it’s a quick, funny read. However, it is not up there with books like “Fight Club” or “Invisible Monsters.”

Palahniuk has announced that his next book, “Beautiful You“ will be released next year. That means we will have to wait until 2015 to find out Madison’s fate. Gripes aside, I cannot wait to find out how her odyssey ends.

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Dirge for the Common Man: A Response to “Song to the Men of England”

Image from Fritz Lang’s film “Metropolis.”

The near-deafening brouhaha raised by the Tea Party during the 2010 election season in the United States attracted the attention of the mainstream media and political system with its use of controversial slogans and anti-government statements. Candidate Christine O’Donnell, misattributing words to Thomas Jefferson, riled the crowds with words that the government should fear them. Air-raid-siren-voiced candidate Sharon Angle shrieked against the so-called evils of public education, social security, and minimum wage. Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin announced that the women of the Tea Party were “mama grizzlies” ready to devour an out of control federal government. Party members met at rallies, shaking signs announcing “Warning Constitution Under Attack,” claiming President Obama was a socialist, and the need to “Protect and Defend the Constitution from All Enemies” (Scherer 27).

The November 4th election led to some Tea Party victories and the Republican Party gained a majority vote in the House of Representatives. Suddenly the Tea Party vanished into the background and little changed in government. Legislature made compromises, passed bills, and all will remain quiet until it is time for another election. Rather than being out-of-control wild grizzlies, Tea Party members showed themselves as sheep, bleating loudly until shepherds arrived to tell them they will be taken care of by the wealthy.

Large uprisings are nothing new. History is full of groups of people rising against their rulers demanding food, protection or freedom. The American Revolution, which energized Europe, provided hope for the people of France, who felt oppressed under a system that protected the wealthy and denied human rights to the common citizen. In time, however, the fervor about revolution calmed and many felt the dream of freedom and equality would never be attained. Indifference, or complacency, settled into the soul of the commoner.

Perhaps this is what early 19th Century poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was responding to when he wrote “Song to the Men of England.” Shelly directs his poem directly to England’s working class, those who plough and weave for the wealthy, providing the rich with food and fine clothing, yet ultimately giving their lives for the upper class without receiving any gratitude. Ultimately, Shelley states these men toil, yet receive not “leisure, comfort, calm, / Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm,” but pain and fear.

Shelley’s words are clearly a call to arms, but they are also a reproof of, not only the workers’ indifference, but their willingness to contribute to class inequality. The final two stanzas of the poem tersely tell the men to go underground, bellow the very floors they built, and chain themselves with the very chains they made for their masters. If the men of England are going to continue supporting the system, then Shelley writes that they should use their tools and skills to make their own graves.

Class divisions still exist in the United States. After World War II and continuing through the 1970s, the gap between the rich and the poor in America remained relatively close and stable. With the introduction of Ronald Reagan’s policies of deregulating markets and giving large tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, the gap began to grow. The gap continued to growing as the wealthy continued to increase their corporate earnings while the working class was getting paid less. Unions are now viewed as an evil, designed to steal away money from workers. Yet non-union workers constantly find themselves struggling to make enough income to take care of their living expenses.

An example of this is Wal-Mart, where employees are constantly told they are part of the family, but consistently have trouble getting the desired hours they need. A new employee is forced to watch a video about why a union would simply hurt the store’s employees and create a rift between the management and the managed that would damage everyone. Just in case an employee does not get the message, he or she must pass a computerized exam where agreeing with Wal-Mart is a condition for passing the test (Ehrenreich 144-145). With twenty-five percent of all merchandise in the United States purchased from Wal-Mart, it benefits the company to remind its employees that they are part of a family and need to show loyalty to that family by accepting low wages and whatever hours the store decides an employee deserves on any given week. And employees agree to it. They become participants in a plan that benefits the upper echelons of the corporation disproportionately more than the workers.

From “Fight Club.” Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

That has become the American way, serve and be quiet. Author Chuck Palahniuk’s novel “Fight Club,” about the impotent and denaturalized condition of the modern American male, introduces status quo challenger Tyler Durden. Tyler challenges the system at every turn, setting up clubs for men, dissatisfied with their lives, to fight each other. In the fight clubs, every man, whether rich, poor, healthy, sick, big, or little, gets the chance to throw down with another man. There is no class. There is not any system elevating one man over another. A man’s liberty in Tyler’s world is forged with bare fists from bruised flesh.

Eventually the system, in this case law enforcement, tries to interfere. A police commissioner vows to stop the underground fighting. He is soon grabbed and pinned down by Tyler and a group of his Space Monkeys. They pull the commissioner’s pants down, wrapping a rubber band tightly around the man’s testicles. “How far do you think you’ll get in politics if the voters know you have no nuts?” asks Tyler (165). Since he is a powerful and wealthy man, the commissioner has much to lose. Tyler tells him that his gang has nothing to lose except for the fight club.

Tyler’s next words echo Shelly’s. However, in the case of Tyler and his Space Monkeys, they are already challenging the system. They are ready to neuter those who have kept them at the bottom and Tyler’s words tell the system that the underclass has realized its true power. He says:

“Remember this…The people you’re trying to step on, we’re everyone you depend on. We’re the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinner. We make your bed. We guard you while you’re asleep. We drive the ambulances. We direct your call. We are cooks and taxi drivers and we know everything about you. We process your insurance claims and credit card charges. We control every part of your life.” (166)

America’s political and upper classes remain happy with a nation where the workers view it as a privilege to serve the needs of the rich. The Tea Party, whether one agrees with their politics or not, made a lot of noise, but eventually allowed themselves to be used by the very people they claimed to be against. The Tea Party, which stood for less federal government, became supporters for fewer taxes for the rich, less regulation over the markets, and reduced funding for education. Ultimately they were happy to chain themselves down and be used by the political right.

Shelley knew the people’s power came, not from just rioting or protesting, but by their power to assert themselves through the goods and services they provide for the wealthy. If Wal-Mart’s employees decided to strike for better pay and work conditions, twenty-five percent of the nation’s economy would come to a halt.  That is power.

Or as Tyler would say, “don’t fuck with us” (166).

Note: This essay was originally written February 8, 2011 for an English literature class. In retrospect, I may have underestimate the Tea Party movement a bit. But it is still an early movement.  

Works Cited

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed. New York: Henry Holt, 2001. Print.

Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: Norton, 1996. Print.

Scherer, Michael. “It’s Tea Time.” Time. 27 Sept. 2010: 26-30. Print

Shelly, Percy Bysshe. “Song to the Men of England.” Ed. Applebaum, Stanley. English Romantic Poetry:An Anthology. Mineola: Dover, 1996. Print.

Palahniuk’s New Novel Is “Damned” Good

“Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.”

—  John Milton, Paradise Lost

 

 

Palahniuk's new novel features a young teenage girl's odyssey through Hell.

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.

Publisher: Doubleday

247 pages, hardcover