Are you there Chuck? It’s me. Cathy.
I hate to be the one to break the news, but it’s concerning me and you. Well, it’s mostly concerning you. I don’t want to be cruel, but I’m tired. More tired than Tired McTiredTiredy….
Look, we’ve had fun down the years, haven’t we? All the youth and excitement of Fight Club, Choke and Survivor? Those were good times. I think of them fondly, but the spark has gone.
This is a hard for me. In the past I have LOVED Palahniuk. That subversion, the sharp edged clearly focused wit, the style, oh the style. But since Tell-all, we’ve been victim of the law of diminishing returns and I think I have reached the end of my tether with Damned.
Madison Spencer, a hybrid Judy Blume/ John Hughes wannabe character, is the sharp, smart 13 year old daughter of a film star and a billionaire who has just died of a marijuana overdose and has wound up in Hell. She falls in with fellow lost souls, ‘the brain, the jock, the rebel and the prom queen’ – the Dead Breakfast Club – and together they take a journey through hell to confront Satan in his citadel.
So far, so Palahniuk.
I mean, if given the choice of authors to write about Hell from the point of view of an overly educated pre-pubescent girl, I’d pick Chuck any day.
Yet this feels like Hell as imagined by a 17 year old boy. With attractions like Vomit Pond, the Swamp of Partial Abortions and Dandruff Desert – this Hell feels a little tame. I’ve read Guts. I know what kind of Hell Palahniuk could take us too. His usual stylistic tropes also fall a little flat this time around. The repetitions, rather than creating their own lyrical evocations, become simply repetitious. The novel lacks the sharp witted focus of previous books and the mashing up of genres – coming-of-age versus journey-through-hell – doesn’t add anything to either.
And yet, sparks of his old brilliance shine through. Those marketing calls and customer surveys you get at dinner time? You’re being called from Hell. All those live Internet sites catering for every imaginable fetish? Yep, those are the damned, working for minimum wage. The worst punishment Madison can think to inflict on Hitler is to banish him to a Sea of Insects where he is forced to watch The English Patient on endless repeat. Palahniuk has the most fun with Madison’s parents, a hypocritical self deluded Hollywood Power Couple (who bear more than a passing resemblance to Brangelina) who are addicted to adopting children from Third World countries, drive a Prius in public and charter a Lear-Jet in private for their dry-cleaning and match their campaign ribbons to the colour of their Oscar gowns. Perhaps the funniest section of the book, which reminded me of how good Palahniuk can be, comes when her parents have the ‘sex talk’ with Madison;
“Now,” my dad says, “when a man loves a woman very, very much…”
“Or,” my mum adds, shooting him a look, “when a man loves a man or a woman loves a woman”
My father nods. “Your mother is right.” He adds, “Or when a man loves two women, or three women, backstage after a big rock concert…”
“Or,” my mom says, “when a whole cell block of male prisoners love one new inmate very, very much…”
“Or,” my dad interjects, “when a motorcycle gang making a meth run across the Southwestern United States loves one drunken biker chick very, very much…”
Palahniuk seems to have the most fun with Madison’s memories of her parents, yet however funny some of these moments are, he has trouble building a genuine story around them. Madison’s transformation from young, naive, unrequited love struck, dead thirteen year old through to marauding, vicious vanquisher of every evil character throughout history feels empty and rushed and her inevitable showdown with Satan (a screenwriter, of course!) which I think is meant to be a twist, is ultimately more confusing than revealing.
The last sentence of the book was too much for me.
“To be continued.”
It appears that Damned is the first part of a trilogy, with the second part, Doomed, having just been published at the tail end of 2013. I think my relationship with Chuck is doomed. I would break up with him if Pygmy and Non-Fiction weren’t in the 746. At the very least, we’re going to have to take a very long break…….
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