Chandra Pepino's Reviews > Damned

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk
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Apr 22, 2012

it was ok
Read on April 22, 2012

"Life is short. Death is forever."

Such are the opening words on the flyleaf for Chuck Palahniuk’s latest novel, Damned. The book is the first of a trilogy revolving around a 13-year-old girl who dies of a drug overdose and finds herself in the fiery depths of the underworld.

Our main character, Madison Spencer, is the only daughter of a famous producer-and-movie-star couple. Maddie’s hipster parents constantly shower her with the spoils of adolescent sex, illegal drugs, and religious ethnocentrism. However, Maddie appears to be wise beyond her years, shunning every offering made to her by her parents…until she meets Goran, one of the many native children her parents have adopted. However, before any sexual tension can escalate between the two, Maddie dies, and she ends up in Hell.

In Hell, Maddie meets a group of people not unlike the pegs from The Breakfast Club: Babette, a pretentious cheerleader; Leonard, a history nerd from the 18th century; Patterson, a high school quarterback; and Archer, a mohawk-sporting guitarist. Maddie would then fall into the antisocial, overweight stereotype, thus completing the quintet. The rest of the book narrates their adventures in Hell, as Maddie seeks to find her true identity, more than she ever got the chance to while on Earth. Soon enough, Maddie discovers the true cause of her death.

I half-expected Chuck to leverage his penchant for twisted horror from his previous novel, Haunted, but I found that Damned is more of a satire, crushing all stereotypes associated with the inferno. He describes hell with such mundanity that the reader feels fascination instead of terror. In the novel, living in Hell is calculated and systematic. Satan and his demons seem to run the underworld like a government, keeping lost souls in line like an extension of life on Earth. And true enough, the damned push papers and have day jobs as if they were living.

Of course, Palahniuk’s graphic elements never disappoint. Only he can get away with illustrating great oceans of wasted sperm or valleys of trimmed fingernails. Or an underground pit, swarming with every bug that has ever been killed over the course of human history. You gotta hand it to the guy for double-daring himself every single time.

What I love most, though, is how Chuck always finds a way to make his novels unforgettable. He does this by taking a piece of everyday life and screwing your view of it entirely. For instance, he states that a human being is only allowed to pee in a swimming pool three times before becoming eternally damned—which means “most people are Hellbound by the age of five.” Or that you’re only allowed to say the f-word 700 times in your lifetime. Or how the dead are actually speaking to you when the hairs on your eyebrows start growing out.

It’s this undeniable sense of familiarity that make Palahniuk’s most twisted theories seem to hit too close to home. That’s his surprise element—when, after all the humor and sarcasm, you realize that the novel has sunk deep into your being. That’s when the real terror begins.
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