damned (chuck palahniuk)Chuck Palahniuk
Anchor Books
2011

Trust me, the being-dead part is much easier than the dying part. If you can watch much television, then being dead will be a cinch. Actually, watching television and surfing the Internet are really excellent practice for being dead.

Madison is the thirteen-year-old daughter of a narcissistic film star and a billionaire. Abandoned at her Swiss boarding school for Christmas, she dies over the holiday, presumably of a marijuana overdose. That last thing she remembers is getting into a town car and falling asleep. Then she’s waking up in Hell. Literally. Madison soon finds herself sharing a cell with a motley crew of young sinners: a cheerleader, a jock, a nerd, and a punk rocker, all united by their doomed fate, like a Breakfast Club of the damned. Together they form an odd coalition and march across the unspeakable landscapes of Hell—full of used diapers, dandruff, wifi blackout spots, evil historical figures, and one horrific call center—to confront the Devil himself.

Author Chuck Palahniuk is usually known as “that guy who wrote Fight Club”, usually by those who have only seen the movie adaptation but never bothered to read the actual novel. These are the same people who are unaware of his prolific body of work, and kept saying “Oh, he’s written another book?” when they saw I as reading this particular review subject here, and then look rather shocked when I explain how many novels and books he’s published since Fight Club was first published in 1996.

I don’t know…does that make me sound like a book nerd? Anyway…

Damned is Palahniuk’s twelfth work of fiction, this one being a black humored tale of a girl who wakes up in Hell, makes friends with a kind of Breakfast Club group, takes on a job as a telemarketer, and details her life and interactions with both the living and the dead. She then decides to take some of the big-name “bullies” out (i.e.: Adolf Hitler, Vlad the Impaler, et al), amasses a following, and uses that power to launch a massive beautification project in the underworld. The whole thing ends with her deciding to stay in Hell despite finding out that she could leave at any time due to paperwork error at the time of her death, confronting Satan about a movie script about her life, and then going into the land of the living to do some trick-or-treat’ing on Halloween.

The beauty of reading anything by Chuck Palahniuk is that it’s the literary equivalent of experiencing a fever dream. Palahniuk once described Damned as “if The Shawshank Redemption had a baby by The Lovely Bones and it was raised by Judy Blume”; while I have yet to read The Lovely Bones (though I’m familiar with the synopsis) or anything by Judy Blume (though my Grandmothers were big fans of her work), you get the sense that he’s not exaggerating with the personal assessment. The narrative flowed very easily, I had no trouble getting sucked into the story, and found Damned to be deliciously twisted, dark and whimsical. Satisfyingly disturbing.

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