A “Damned” Good Read

"Damned" by Chuck Palahniuk
"Damned" by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk is the kind of writer who has die-hard fans across the globe. I’m sorry, but I was not one of them.

However, Palahniuk’s new novel “Damned” was enough to convert me.

“Damned” is about a 13-year-old girl named Madison “Maddie” Spencer, the daughter of a world-famous Hollywood actress and a big-name Hollywood producer. She’s your typical Hollywood child-brat, who happens to die from what at first appears to be an overdose of marijuana.

Despite being so young, Maddie winds up in hell. Maddie isn’t alone though — joining her are nerdy Leonard, popular Babette, jock Patterson and rebel Archer. They go through hell together, as Maddie learns what really happened to her and the value of her self-worth.

“Damned” is the antithesis of Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” Most apparent is how every chapter begins much like Blume’s original novel, with a letter always saying, “Are you there Satan? It’s me, Madison.” There’s more than this that connects them though.

Blume’s novel is about Margaret growing up and enduring the typical adolescent girl’s struggles.  Palahniuk’s novel, on the other hand, deals with Maddie never getting to grow up and explore these things. This doesn’t trouble her, as she knows she can still grow even though she is dead.

“Damned” is extremely character-driven, so much so that your opinion of Maddie will probably determine your overall feeling on the book. On the surface, Maddie is the usual annoying pubescent girl. She is always complaining about being fat, justifying her intelligence and being generally ungrateful of the charmed life she lived (even if her parents are selfish, too).

And yet, she’s still likeable.

First off, Maddie is hysterical and her refusal to give up hope is endearing. Let’s face it — she’s in Hell, confined to a dirty cell littered with popcorn balls and surrounded by the other members of “The Breakfast Club.” While she never stops personally validating her intelligence, she remains an innocent and vulnerable teenager. Even though she’s damned, it’s difficult not to put yourself in her shoes.

Palahniuk does a stellar job of channeling a teenager. I’m pretty sure he enjoyed the experience, as he said that the following books will continue Maddie’s story. He plans for it to play out like Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” with Maddie traveling to Purgatory and eventually Heaven.

The idea is kind of iffy, but I like Maddie enough to continue on. Oh and for those who are wondering…

No, Maddie does not die of a marijuana overdose.