Chuck Palahniuk is weird. He wrote a Tarantino-esque revenge epic for chubby 13-year-old girls that 13-year-old girls should never be allowed to read. Damned is Judy Blume meets Dante Alighieri meets The Breakfast Club, and it is delightful.
Madison Spencer was the daughter of a movie star mother and producer father. She was never quite skinny enough or perfect enough for them to take her to award shows. But Madison was never bitter, she loved her parents. Even when they started adopting disadvantaged children for the media attention, even when her mother would tell the tabloids she still 8 years old, Madison remained positive, she is nothing if not an optimist. Madison Spencer died at the age of 13 from a marijuana overdose. It is only then that Madison starts to enjoy her life, even if she is in hell.
As Madison wakes up in hell, she meets other dead teenagers. There’s Babette the perky blond, Archer the punk rocker, Patterson the jock, and Leonard the nerd. They set off on a quest across hell, so Madison can plead with Satan that she belongs in heaven. On their journey, Madison has a chance to learn how hell works. Candy is hell’s currency. Practical leather shoes are a must (plastic will melt!) Telemarketing phone calls, yup, those are outsourced to hell. Stomachache? Those are just souls from hell communicating with the living. Don’t forget that a demon might eat you at any time, it may sting, but not to worry, your physical form will convalesce in due time.
I like weird more than I like good. Weird means new ideas. Weird means interesting characters. The writing in Damned isn’t on par with Steinbeck or Hemingway, sure, but it’s unique, and it’s fun to read. Damned is an easy read, but it’s not exactly mindless. It appears Palahniuk has put in some solid research into demonology (I didn’t stop to check for accuracy). He’s also put some research into coming-of-age tales for prepubescent girls. He just decided to write one with a lot of graphic gore and sex. As our gang comes to the end of their journey, Madison becomes a force of nature, she becomes powerful in spirit, a trait we all wish we could have had at 13. The idea that every 13-year-old girl has a strength within them not dictated by their appearance, parents, or peers is a great one, unfortunately Damned was made for an older audience, so all it offers is catharsis rather than a practical guide. It’s a chance to let any bitterness we have hung onto from our adolescence melt away to replace it with optimism, just like Maddy Spencer.
So I’ll take weird. Strange is fun. Unique is good. This book was made for those of us who had an awkward adolescence, those of us who wish that they could go back in time and kick some bully ass. Read Damned, and live that tale of vengeance through little Maddy Spencer who goes to hell and has the time of her life. Watch her thunder thighs become the sturdy base of her power, watch as her chubby arms break Hitler’s face in, and watch her rampage across hell towards her final showdown with Satan. This is a book with no adolescent whining, no self-pity; it’s a tale of vengeance, and it’s a good one. Damned is the first part in a series, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest.