Bookmarks Issue: 

A-DamnedChuck Palahniuk is the author of 11 previous novels, most of which feature outsiders, misfits, and the criminally insane. His best-selling novel, Fight Club (1996), was made into a film starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Recently reviewed: Pygmy (3 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2009), Snuff (2.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2008), and Rant (3 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2007).

The Story: Madison Spencer, the daughter of two self-absorbed Hollywood types who adopt orphans for publicity reasons, is dead. After an apparent marijuana overdose (though nobody, of course, really dies from that--the real reason lies at the core of the novel), she is sent straight to hell in a Lincoln Town Car, where she falls in with a group of teenage sinners: a geek, a jock, a cheerleader, and a punk. As Madison explores her new home--with its cockroaches, vomit lakes, dandruff deserts, and telemarketers, but unfortunately, no Wi-Fi--she learns, much to her surprise, that hell is what you make of it. And for her, it isn't all that bad.
Doubleday. 256 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780385533027

Independent (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[I]t is entertaining to witness Palahniuk's energetic flailing, while he flogs the dead horse of another narrative into fictional pulp. If death is done to death and beyond, Damned is an entertaining addition to his oeuvre--in part because, some way in, the story begins to take on a distinctly optimistic quality, and Palahniuk dangles the possibility of redemption in front of Madison." Peter Carty

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"By any definition of the word ‘decency' it's been a long time since Chuck Palahniuk wrote a decent book. ... But he shows new signs of life in Damned, a book full of tastelessly hilarious gallows humor about a teenage girl in hell." Janet Maslin

Oregonian 3 of 5 Stars
"Damned doesn't succeed because of Palahniuk's trademark shocking moments, but in spite of them. The novel makes the greatest impact when Maddy finally begins to peel back the lies surrounding her death and damnation." Katie Schneider

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2 of 5 Stars
"Still, her journey of self-discovery doesn't offer much to chew on, and the flat secondary characters and flatter jokes contribute to a spirit of vexing pointlessness, less like a tour of hell than like a crawl through L.A. traffic." Dylan Hicks

Onion AV Club 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Palahniuk's blend of disaffected rage always feels most potent in the voice of adult men, which is perhaps why Madison never feels like more than a shell of an author stand-in. ... Constantly complaining about her life of privilege and never touching sadness without cruelly dark humor, Madison is inconsistent at best, and infuriating at worst." Kevin McFarland

Critical Summary

Although Damned garnered mixed reviews, most critics found little fault with Chuck Palahniuk's imagination. Who else would think to use Dante, Judy Blume, and The Breakfast Club as inspiration for a single story? Given his past works (Pygmy, for example), several reviewers found his portrayal of Madison's blooming sexuality surprisingly sensitive and noncreepy. Others, however, felt that Palahniuk was unable to play it straight long enough to hold general readers' interest. "Free enough with strange sex and weird violence, Palahniuk seems determined to shy away from emotional honesty," noted the Oregonian. Others found Maddy's voice tiresome, describing it as part gum-smacking teen, part classics professor. Damned may not be for everybody, but for Palahniuk fans, the good outweighs the bad.