(I know. My book and movie reviews are usually of the $3 variety, but I didn’t want to wait for the paperback of Damned by Chuck Palahniuk.)
I’ve followed Chuck Palahniuk since his unknown days. I am one of the few who can honestly say I read Fight Club before it became Brad Pitt’s Fight Club. I still follow his work, although, when he takes artistic chances (which artists should), I may not always choose to take those chances with him. And some of his later works, such as Rant, I found stuffed with great ideas and characters, but too full of plot holes to be taken seriously. Let’s just say I’m an affectionate critic. Or a skeptical fan.
His newest book, Damned, has an interesting premise and a 13-year-old girl as a protagonist. His last try at a feminine protagonist, Diary, was uneven at best. I was curious to see if he could pull this off (although by choosing a pre-pubescent girl, he at least made it a little easier on himself, difference-from-males-wise).
So here’s what I think, in short, because I hate long book and movie reviews that could serve as a miniature version of the book or movie. None of that here.
Even though the book opens with our 13-year-old hero, Madison, in a filthy cage in Hell, and the wordsmithery is fun and, well, Diablo Cody-esque, I didn’t feel compelled to keep reading until about halfway through, where the one important bit of plot intrigue is revealed. From page 1 to page 124, our author relies on Madison’s snappy banter with her Hell-mates, her memories of her jet-setting parents and her tours through Palahniuk’s concept of Hell, which, if not exactly biblically based, is very Palahniuk-y, being equal parts jolly and gross. It’s a long set-up to the payoff. A slow burn. I understand. But it made the first half of the book less than a page turner.
By the end I was thoroughly on board. However, Palahniuk’s use of dropping the reader into a scene with few linear time-line cues gave the book a dream-like hue, and I became more than a little worried that I was heading toward one of those “and then she woke up smelling eggs and bacon” endings. Luckily, he did not disappoint me with one of those, but he disappointed in a larger way with the last sentence, as he certainly had not hinted that this would be a BOOK ONE in a SERIES.
My final thought was to wonder why he had not collaborated with an artist and made Madison’s story into a series of illustrated novels. His imaginative imagery of Hell and the super-hero qualities Madison eventually develops are ideally suited for illustration. Okay, Chuck, I’LL do it if you can’t find anybody else. But think about it. Pictures of Hell’s ever-growing lake of semen? The dunes of discarded nail clippings? A conquering 13-year-old heroine with a belt of spoils, including Hitler’s scalped mustache? That’s comic book stuff right there.