“The daughter of a narcissistic film star and a billionaire, Madison is abandoned at her Swiss boarding school over Christmas, while her parents are off touting their new projects and adopting more orphans. She dies over the holiday of a marijuana overdose — and the next thing she knows, she’s in Hell. Madison shares her cell with a motley crew of young sinners that is almost too good to be true: a cheerleader, a jock, a nerd, and a punk rocker, united by fate to form the six-feet-under version of everyone’s favorite detention movie. Madison and her pals trek across the Dandruff Desert and climb the treacherous Mountain of Toenail Clippings to confront Satan in his citadel. All the popcorn balls and wax lips that serve as the currency of Hell won’t buy them off.
This is the afterlife as only Chuck Palahniuk could imagine it: a twisted inferno where The English Patient plays on endless repeat, roaming demons devour sinners limb by limb, and the damned interrupt your dinner from their sweltering call center to hard-sell you Hell. He makes eternal torment, well, simply divine.”
Thoughts: How to describe Damned? Take the group from The Breakfast Club, add an extremely world-weary thirteen-year-old narrator, a few demons, some absolutely nauseating landmarks, and mix thoroughly to create a spot-on satire of modern society. Yet, somehow even that description fails to explain Damned fully. Part coming-of-age story and part mystery, Damned crosses genres and manages to mock everything from the religious right to celebrities and everything in between.
Madison is quite the unlikely heroine. At thirteen years of age, she is too young to be as blase as she is. She condemns certain behaviors without ever having experienced them herself and is quick to mock others for their gaucheness. In other words, she is very much a smart-aleck kid who thinks she knows everything. Before a reader becomes tired of her, however, she will say something that is a jarring reminder of just how young and naive she truly is, no matter how much she might deny it. The reader cannot help but sympathize with Madison as she narrates her attempts to find acceptance, acknowledgement and happiness in both her previous life and her current dead one.
Audiobooks in which the main character is a young teenager is tough for a narrator. Even worse, Madison is extremely jaded, and the narrator needs to be able to portray this to drive home Palahniuk’s message. Thankfully, Tai Simmons is up to this formidable challenge. She does an excellent job capturing Madison’s disillusionment. More importantly, her voice is not too old but is the perfect level of youth on the cusp of womanhood. Any other narrator would find it difficult to balance the two, but Ms. Simmons hits the right notes perfectly.
As my first Palahniuk novel, I was not certain what to expect with Damned. What I discovered was an entertaining novel in which nothing is sacred. Palahniuk’s skewering of celebrity marriages, religious pretense, telemarketing, haute couture, fame, and evil, among others, highlights the hypocrisy that seems to be on the rise while not-so-gently reminding the reader of the damage such unctuousness can cause. There is a no-holds-barred attitude to the entire novel that is simultaneously uncomfortable, irreverent, and absolutely hilarious to behold. Be warned however; Damned is not for the faint of heart, easily disgusted or offended. There are scenes that will challenge the most indifferent reader. For readers who are willing to take a chance though, Palahniuk’s portrayal of Hell is as eye-opening and insightful as it is humorous.