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Monday, March 18,2013

One hell of a novel

Chuck Palahniuk is back, telling the tale of a teen who is eternally 'Damned'

by Jon James

Tuesday, Nov. 1 — “Are you there, Satan? It’s
me, Madison” opens every chapter of "Fight Club" author Chuck
Palahniuk’s latest novel, "Damned." They say you can’t judge a
book by its cover, but even before it’s opened it’s obvious that "Damned"
is different.


The novel is flesh-toned and
embossed with a tattoo-style illustration of the capital-D Devil. It’s the
story of Madison Spencer, the dead and eternally sentenced to damnation daughter of a movie
producer father with a private jet and an actress mother who frequently models
for the cover of Vanity Fair. A relentless people-pleaser, 13-year-old
Madison is just another lost soul in Hell without an authority figure to
impress. So, along with a motley group of condemned teens, she sets out across
the Swamp of Partial-birth Abortions and the ever-growing Ocean of Wasted Sperm
to find and entice the Lord of Lies.


Madison’s style of narration comes
across as too articulate for a 13-year-old, but I’d rather read a
literate if slightly unbelievable young adult than try to decipher the text
lingo, shorthand and homonym abuse associated with actual preteens of today:
“r u their satin it me madi” would get old really quick.


The next hurdle to overcome
is the repetition, which is sort of a signature of Palahniuk. Nearly every
chapter contains the phrase, “As my mom would say,” followed by an explanation
of the quote.


Between setting up the voice, the repetition and introducing the
environment, the book starts relatively slowly. Then it picks up — a lot. As
Madison meets celebrities, notorious historical figures and dethroned deities
of yore, it gets perpetually more gripping, until the intensity is roaring like
a great hellfire, only to end with To Be Continued.


Yeah. Apparently "Damned"
is part one of a trilogy, and there is no break in the action to give book one
a satisfying ending. On the plus side, this means that book two should have no
issues with a slow start, but God knows how long we will have to wait before it
hits the shelves. (Oops, sorry Satan, I said the G-word again.)


"Damned" does a great job of parodying both the environmentally conscientious hypocrisy of the rich and
famous and the fire-and-brimstone rule-mongering of the Westboro Baptist clan. The narrator is
accessible enough and the plot intriguing enough to convince this avid Palahniuk fan that "Damned" is the best novel of his to date. It may
never reach the sales level of "Fight Club," but that’s because it isn’t
very movie-adaptable, and because the content is a bit headier than his
testosterone-fueled, anti-corporate claim-to-fame. Even if it doesn’t top the
cult favorite, "Damned" is at least an easier read than his last three: "Tell All" featured too much Golden Age name-dropping, "Pygmy" was held back most by
the narrator’s broken English and "Snuff" seemed to be more smut than
plot.

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