Damned follows Madison Spencer as she navigates her way through hell, in search of Satan and a sense of understanding. It captures everything you would expect from a Chuck Palahniuk book: bawdy situations, a main character who is ignorant of key portions of her life, and wicked humor. The vision of hell in Damned is an extreme version of everything you’ve ever imagined hell to be, yet strangely bureaucratic at the same time. The life of Madison is ridiculous and sad, but her afterlife is inconceivable. Thirteen-year-old Madison lived her life as the often ignored child of two celebrities. She was wanted for nothing, other than friendship and understanding from her parents. Instead of treating her as an individual, her parents treated her as a prop on one of their movie sets. School wasn’t much different. Everything changes when she takes hell by storm and makes it into everything she ever wanted out of life.
Sometimes reading Palahniuk is like completing a dare. His books are not for the squeamish. (I once almost threw up and got in a car accident while listening to the audiobook of one of his stories. The CD remained in my car for a full year, since I was unable to think about it long enough to remove it. I still have not finished the CD.) Reading through descriptions of the Dandruff Desert or the Sea of Insects are just the beginning of the locations that are not fit for the queasy. The payoff is always worth it though. No matter how lewd, Palahniuk’s characters are always full of heart, and have an incredible story to tell.
The variety of ways one can end up in hell in Damned is astounding. Too many dropped cigarette butts, honked horns, swears, and countless other menial infractions can lead you to damnation. When asked, each person in hell will tell you that they are damned for one of these more mundane reasons, whether it is the truth or not. This is part of the fun of Damned; you never know if someone left too many pieces of gum under school desks or if someone was a serial killer. Through her journey, Madison learns that being perfect in the eyes of others will never get you where you want to go. Instead, you have to fight to be who you are and get what you want.
If you love popcorn balls enough to spend eternity with them, read Damned.
Palahniuk, Chuck. “Damned” (Chuck Palahniuk). New York: Random House, 2011. Kindle Edition.