Damned by Chuck Palahniuk follows the idea that every cliché you’ve ever heard about Hell is absolutely and completely true. And Hell isn’t really that bad of a place so long as you don’t expect it to be like Heaven. All it needs is a little optimism and some long-overdue re-landscaping by the supernumerous tenants.
The book is creative, thoughtful and entertaining, and is probably more broadly-appealing to readers than most of Palahniuk’s other, more shockingly gruesome works. With trim, lean writing the author creates the most sympathetic, likable protagonist of his career. To his credit, the 13-year old female protagonist is thoroughly authentic in thought and viewpoint, which allows Palahniuk to lead the character to a number of unusually profound conclusions. Like the protagonist, every member of the supporting cast is similarly illustrated with sympathetic—if not tragic—human weaknesses. As the backstories of these characters are revealed the reader becomes continually haunted with the idea that there is no Heaven at all, and that Hell is for everyone.
Despite its strengths, Damned is not Palahniuk’s best. His trademark technique of using repetition in changing contexts fails to fulfill its purpose in this novel. The result is frequently negatively iterative, if not, at times, indulgent.
The structure of the final act is particularly weak as well, giving the impression that the novel was cut short of the full story the author was trying to tell. Virtually without warning, we are ushered to a rapid climax which dissipates with an anti-climax. The pivotal idea to the story’s final revelation—that the main character is driven by free will—is hindered by the poor structure and ultimately results in invalidating all the story which preceded it by making it feel pointless.
Damned is worth a read, especially for those who love anti-fundamentalist and anti-liberal satire.
Rating: 3 / 5