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Book Review: Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

Title: Damned
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0224091152
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256 pages
Price: £12.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always loved Chuck Palahniuk’s books. Yes they are dysfunctional and yes sometimes they can only get weird, however most of the time, there are lines in his books that take my breath away and only make me realize that what he says is most often just a reflection of the times we live in – Drastic, On-the-Edge, Ever-Changing and most of all Confused. A world that doesn’t know what it is all about and why is it here in the first place.

Chuck Palahniuk’s characters are weak. They know they are weak and most of the time they only want a better life – much like Richard Yates’s characters. Be it the Messiah in Survivor (or so he thinks of himself to be) or be it the Trans-gendered beauty queen of Invisible Monsters – they are running away to find themselves. For all these reasons and more, Chuck Palahniuk is one of my favourite writers. So I was very pleased to have received a copy of “Damned” for early review. The book will be out only in October 2011.

Damned is said to be a Young Adult book, however it isn’t like that at all. It is a book for adults, which I am sure adults will take to very easily, since the language is not complicated like his recent books.

Damned begins with Madison Spencer, a chunky silver-tongued thirteen-year-old who is the daughter of a way-into-herself film actress and billionaire daddy. After a marijuana over-dose (why I am not surprised?), she wakes up in the wrong side of the afterlife within the confines a scummy jail cell in Hell. She compares this experience to The Breakfast Club, a sort of permanent detention in which you’re stuck with people who are nothing like you in a place you don’t want to be. Madison, of course, plays the basket case a la Ally Sheedy while others fill the role of The Jock, The Nerd, The Cheerleader, and The Burn Out. And true to Breakfast Club form, a particular amount of emphasis is put on the question “Why are you here?”

It’s when these five characters start their tour of Hell and learning the ropes that Damned becomes a real joyride. Palahniuk truly has no rules to play by in this one, so rather than the reader having to suspend their disbelief in regards to the porn industry or special agent foreign exchange students—his version of Hell, and all the sights and sounds he provides us—they’ll hit just as hard as his infamous Guts short story while taking regular cracks at your funny bone with its satire.

The ebb of flow of Damned follows the group tour of Hell while going back to Madison’s time on earth, examining her home life and the circumstances leading up to her untimely demise. We’ve seen this move before: Chuck giving you past and present events in a steady rotation, and the move still works.

Damned has a sense of urgency about it, almost forcing the reader to tear through it in order to get that next titbit of Madison’s back-story or another Hell-related factoid, i.e. – the role of demons and which celebrities reside in the flaming deep. I easily tore through this one within the day.