I don’t know why I keep trying to read books by Chuck Palahniuk. That is not to say that he’s not a good writer, it’s just that his very distinct style and way of telling a story is not for me. I’ve given him a go with a couple of other novels, but I think I’ve just come to realize that while I can see why others might like his work, I just can’t seem to enjoy it. And that’s okay. Though I will say that out of the three books I’ve read by Chuck Palahniuk to date, this one was not my least favourite, so that’s a good thing!
Damned is about a thirteen year-old girl who has just died and is now in Hell. The story of how she died and what her life was like is told through almost a series of journal-entry type chapters addressed to Satan. Her accounts of Hell are vivid and include a lot of grotesque filth and imagery, as well as descriptions on how the whole operation is set up to run as she comes to learn more and more. Madison is intelligent and snarky, but definitely also a teenager. And as I read this book, I am reminded of a fact that I came to realize very clearly in myself earlier this year: I do not know how to age people properly. Particularly young people: two children or teenagers could be the same age and I could perceive them to be drastically different in age. Such as what kind of happens with Madison throughout this novel. At some times she seems much older than she is, but at other times she seems so young and innocent in some ways. But that, I believe, is somewhat intentional and reflective of her upbringing as the daughter of a well-known actress and film producer who themselves a bit eccentric, and try to keep their daughter within an infantilized image for public consumption, all while pushing her to experiment with drugs and other activities in her life as a way to experience life and come to know herself.
There are also a host of other characters present, particularly four other friends that Madison meets in Hell who, along with her, come to form a parallel image to those archetypes found in The Breakfast Club. These characters are all intriguing but I feel like we almost don’t get enough of them, or they don’t end up being as important as you think they are going to be, the way they are introduced and the roles they play near the beginning of the book. I also feel like there is some minor shifting in characters that doesn’t entirely make sense, or at least, I couldn’t make sense of as things went along.
Essentially, the whole novel revolves around Madison telling her story of how she got to Hell, coming to terms with being there, and learning the ropes of the place in order to make her time there bearable, and perhaps use all the potential her living life lost in this new setting. There are a lot of details included, both in terms of physical setting and background of Madison, which makes her and the universe seem very vivid and real, despite some of the information not per-say being completely necessary. It’s an interesting take on the conception of Hell and how arbitrary a trip there can be based on our lives. Yet there is still a bit of an inconclusiveness to the whole thing, both the ending and the story itself: I wasn’t really sure what the purpose was or where it was going. And yes, there is a sequel entitled Doomed, but based on my response to this first book, I am not inclined to really get into that one. It just didn’t engage me for some reason, and therefore, I think it’s time for me to break up my readership with Chuck Palahniuk. It’s not you, sir, it’s me. I promise you.