Review: Damned

Contributed by: Samantha Holle

Recap: Madison Spencer has been pronounced dead; the cause of death being an apparent overdose of marijuana. Spencer, 13, leaves behind a billionaire movie star mother, a billionaire movie producer father and countless siblings adopted from impoverished countries, living in boarding schools around the world. Services will be held, but thatʼs not what matters.

What matters is what Madison is doing now that sheʼs dead. Sheʼs that telemarketer calling your house during dinner, and sheʼs doing her bidding from Hell. What exactly did Madison do to arrive in Hell? Was her death really an overdose? And will there be any retribution for her demise?

Analysis: Every story that Chuck Palahniuk has published in recent years has had undertones of his other novels beneath it. Damned is no exception. It reads much like his other books. The narrator is cynical, obnoxious, and difficult to like. But this time, instead of a haughty supermodel or a religious cult member or a porn movie director, sheʼs a 13 year old girl. Despite the age difference, Madisonʼs tone is a less-than-stellar reboot of The Narrator in Fight Club.

In Hell, Madison meets a character — think Judd Nelson circa The Breakfast Club — who shows her the way to freedom; in this case, freedom is ripping off Hitlerʼs mustache and banishing him to the Swamp of Partial-birth Abortions. (Yes, this actually happens.)

In addition to his narrator being a rerun, Palahniuk also reruns quite a few of the same sentence styles. In fact, I tallied some of the most commonly used phrases in the 247-page book. Here is the breakdown:

Slutty McSlutski/Whorey Vanderwhore/Pervy McPervert/any other variation on this name for a person of ill repute or questionable sexual practices: 55 times.

“Yes, I know the word _____… but I am NOT _____.”: 18 times.

“Yes, I ____, but _____”: 22 times.

“___ is ___. ___ is ___.” followed by a plea to stop whining: 5 times.

“No, itʼs not fair, but…” 17 times.

But Palahniuk’s poor writing comes across in his characterization of Madison, as well. She’s portrayed as a literate young lady, with a beautiful vocabulary. She often argues in defense of English literature with college-level flair. But any time Palahniuk makes her sound remotely intelligent, she uses one of the repeated phrases from above or declares a book to be “way-cool.” Itʼs like he couldnʼt decide if he wanted her to be brilliant or a stereotypically dumb teenage girl.

Ultimately, Madison begins to create a new life for herself in Hell that differed greatly from her life on earth. In the midst of her transformation from fat spoiled Hollywood kid to ass-kicking hellraiser, she vows to “revise my story, reinvent myself.” But her story is just like all of Palahniukʼs other works, making the reader question Palahniukʼs own reinvention.

I understand that the point of Palahniukʼs works is to be cynical; he is a satirical writer. But do all of his books have to have the same malevolent tone? Do all of his characters have to be under-developed and irritating? If Hell is repetition, Iʼm glad I didnʼt buy this book. I hope I never have to re-read it.

MVP: The reader, if they actually made it through the entire book.

Get Damned in hardcover for $16.

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