Chuck Palahnuik is a genius. For those of you who might not be familiar with his writing, he is the author of Fight Club. I hope that, even if you haven’t read the book, you’ve seen the film adaptation with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton (F***ing AMAZING MOVIE!). Palanuik’s more recent work, Damned, is just as original and just as irresistible as Fight Club (I’m having a strong need to watch this movie all of a sudden). Damned follows thirteen year old Madison after she kicks the bucket because of a marijuana overdose. Madison wakes up after a humiliating funeral, staged by her wealthy and narcissistic parents, finding herself damned for all eternity. Madison is surprisingly calm about the whole situation and quickly finds herself a group of friends and they proceed to wreak havoc as they travel across hell’s unique landscape.
This book is Breakfast Club meets Judy Blume meets Dante’s Inferno. And it is brilliant. Palahniuk’s disturbing descriptions of Hell are entirely unique. Some of Hell’s landmarks include Dandruff Desert, the Great Plains of Broken Glass, and the Great Ocean of Wasted Sperm. On top of this disgusting landscape, Hell is littered with demons who originate in cultures across the globe, and are described with pinpoint accuracy. I found my self utterly enraptured by the wide variety of demon’s found in Hell and I would very much enjoy learning more about each one’s origins.
Madison is clearly a fan of The Breakfast Club (another great film, and if you haven’t seen it you need to rethink your life choices) and she quickly starts referencing the film when she finds her own version of the princess, the jock, the nerd, and the rebel. It is utter perfection the way this ragtag group bonds over their shared circumstance and attempt to make the best of their time in the after life. Palahniuk also captures teenage angst by satirically referencing Judy Blume. He begins every chapter with “Are you there Satan? It’s me Madison” (1). Madison continues to make confessions to Satan as she explores her new home and learns more about herself.
Palahniuk delivers a hilarious satire that had me cringing a lot of the time. There were a few moments when I was utterly disgusted but then I remembered that this book takes place in hell and it makes total sense for Hell to be gross. And through all of the pop culture references and descriptions of Hell’s mountain of toenail clippings, Palahniuk delivers a clear message that can easily be summed up in one quote:
“The only thing that makes Earth feel like Hell, or Hell feel like Hell is our expectation that it should feel like Heaven” (247).
Life is what you make it, and so is death. Madison struggles to make herself into someone she is proud to be in her afterlife, when that is what she should have been doing during her life. I can think of a few people that should not read this book, like my elderly relatives and anyone who is easily offended my graphic descriptions of bodily functions, but if you do read this book take the message to heart. It’s a powerful one that is hidden beneath a hilarious and enjoyable ride through Hell’s landscape.
Palahniuk, Chuck. Damned. New York: Doubleday, 2011. Print.