Saturday, July 20, 2013



     Okay, so the rundown is as follows: Whatever mojo Chuck Palahniuk had, it's gone now. Long gone. Damned is an ugly book, but not an entertainingly ugly book in the same way Choke or my personal favorite, Invisible Monsters was. The social pariahs encountered within these pages aren't half as interesting as the ones in Rant, and the cynicism is more choreographed than natural. In short, this reads like a book written by someone poorly imitating Chuck Palahniuk, and the last person in the world you should ever want to be a poor imitation of is Chuck Palahniuk. The descriptions are gross but seem kind of superfluous, the characters are one-dimensional except for Madison, who serves to alternately call every woman who isn't her "Slutty McVanderslut" and needlessly regurgitate the author's views. The plot is entirely beside the point, and the ranting interludes where Palahniuk rages against modern culture just seem like a list of things the author doesn't like.

            On the off-chance that I missed the point of the book, it does do a pretty good job of moderning up The Divine Comedy, and there are some genuinely funny moments (like being chauffeured to Hell in a town car, or a demon asking "Are you familiar with the William Morris Agency?") here and there. But sifting through these is an exercise in torture itself, and even an ending where it turns out that most of the book is the angry rant of a dead teenager who was simply put in a bad circumstance can't really save this from being a complete miss. If you feel like reading Palahniuk, find his earlier novels when he still had something to say. It's pretty much all downhill from here.

"Are you there, Satan? It's me, Madison."
- Maddie Spencer

            Confession time here, Dear Readers: I used to like Chuck Palahniuk*. Quite a bit, actually. I didn't agree with him all that much when I read him, but the guy wrote well, had a good sense of humor, and created some interesting characters. His work was bizarre, but it was good, and he clearly had something to say. Whether it was valid or not was another question, but one I wasn't willing to answer or discuss. I just liked the way he wrote, that sort of terse, punchy snarl that all his characters seemed to have. So when I saw at BEA that he'd written another book after the slightly-uneven sci-fi novel Rant and the boring celebrity-glitz parody Tell-All, I immediately tried to track it down. And after an attempt to read it in e-book, I gave up. It just wasn't any good, and I didn't have any time. But with the sequel hitting store shelves this summer, I decided "what the hell", and gave it another try. I really, really wish I hadn't.

               Damned is the story of Madison "Maddie" Spencer, who tells us in her opening that she knows several big words and that she's dead of a marijuana overdose. She also tells the reader that everyone lies about why they're in Hell. Upon arriving in a cell, she meets the other characters in the story, each a caricature of a teen-film or YA-novel stereotype. That such stereotypes are outdated is something Mr. Palahniuk does not concern himself with, he's got something to say and he's going to say it whether anyone's listening or not. There's Leonard, the nerd with a special interest in demonology; Archer, the criminal punk with a huge safety pin pierced through one cheek; Babette, the rich fashion-obsessed girl (here getting a better treatment than most rich and fashion-obsessed people in Palahniuk's novels), and Patterson, the jock. As Madison explores Hell and gets to know her companions, more is revealed about each of them, and they begin a quest to appeal to Satan to leave Hell. Or something.

              If you didn't notice much of a plot in that, that's because there isn't one. For the first part of the book, Madison and her friends wander aimlessly among sand dunes made of fingernail clippings, past lakes of boiled vomit and fecal matter, and other grotesque set dressing. There they meet demons, and the most bizarre group-sex scene in history takes place with a gigantic demon named Psezpolnica. From there, the plot gets even more inconsistent, as it appears that Maddie's new friends have all been outside the cages where they were first found for a while, and they were just put in there for...reasons? The latter half of the book is Maddie using her position in a call center to convince dying people to go to Hell, because they can't possibly get into Heaven. She then embarks on a crusade to beat up and bully history's greatest monsters and become queen of hell. Seriously. This was the point where I began to wonder if there even was a plot, or if Palahniuk decided to just wrap a thin veneer of storytelling around a list of everything he hates. 

          Maddie is a thoroughly repulsive character, too. She spends her time condemning everyone and putting herself above them all, while simultaneously claiming that she's no better than everyone else because she's a poor little un-loved unattractive girl. Palahniuk gives her a voice, but it's so abhorrent and steeped in adult vocabulary and language that I found myself wishing she'd just be quiet for ten seconds and let anyone-- even Elizabeth Bathory (yeah, she's in here) talk. Palahniuk tries to hand-wave as much of this as possible by having Maddie confront the reader with lines like "Yeah, I know the word insidious. I'm dead, not stupid." Dead, stupid, or whatever, a writer has to actually justify the stupid things he puts in his books. You can't just say things or handwave things and expect the audience to follow you along. You have to lead them places, let them discover the landmarks, and continue from there. This would, of course, be somewhat forgivable if she were likeable, but I personally kept rooting for her to be et by a demon, and the reveal at the end didn't make things any easier to take. 

               And that we're stuck in her POV makes it all the more annoying. The other characters are practically cardboard cutouts placed in situations where Maddie can comment on them, and the various people whose calls she interrupts in her job in Hell's call center are only interesting (or even there in the story) for the ten seconds Maddie spends talking with them. In short, there are really no other characters but Madison, and Madison isn't someone you'd want to spend ten pages with, let alone one hundred. 

            It isn't a complete waste, though, and that's the issue. If this were something like Ghosts of Manhattan, where I could write the whole book off, I'd feel better about it. But there are some clever jabs at the entertainment industry mixed in with all the crap about Hello Kitty condoms and oral sex with gigantic demons. There are some nice touches, the waiting rooms of Hell, there's gum on every single seat waiting for you to sit down without looking, and demons who have been in films being represented by agencies. But these nice touches are in such a massive river of faeces that it's not worth slogging through to find the things you like. 

            In the end, I'd say give this a miss, and a wide berth. It's not worth reading, and it's not worth even trying from the library. Avoid this like the plague and don't look back. It's what I should have done, it's what I'm going to do, and it's what should send a message to Chuck Palahniuk to figure out what the hell he started doing wrong and fix it.  

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Drood by Dan Simmons
Invisible Monsters Remix by Chuck Palahniuk
Reamde by Neal Stephenson
Total Oblivion, More Or Less by Alan Deniro


*Actually, screw it, the man wrote Choke and Invisible Monsters, I still like those. I could take or leave most of his bibliography, though. I know it's cool to hate him now, but being cool is for suckers, and so is hating a man because he wrote Fight Club.

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