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.


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