Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Review: Chuck Palahniuk's Doomed

Chuck Palahniuk has a flare for inventive writing, whether tackling pent up societal aggression in his breakout novel Fight Club, writing in the form of collected documentary interviews in an effort to explore man’s desire to become a god in Rant, or chronicling the grotesque layout of hell as thirteen-year-old Madison Spencer journeys through her afterlife in Damned. In Doomed, the sequel to Damned, Madison becomes the unwitting center of the classic battle between good and evil, an experience she details in a series of terse and comedic blog posts so that both the world and her friends in hell can follow along.

Madison, who has been trapped on in the real world after failing to make it back to hell by the midnight Halloween curfew, finds herself at the center of a worldwide religion. Her death has turned her into a religious savior, a transformation that the portly child of a famed actress cannot fathom. The new religion is referred to as Boorism, involves placing society at their worst. People say hello through a volley of profanity, they no longer hide their bodily secretions, farting, burping, and the like, in an effort to reach what they think is heaven. Unbeknownst to them, the religion started at the hands of Madison doing her job in hell in the previous novel, a job that involved serving as a telemarketer. Madison wanted to see her parents again and told them that she was Heaven, but in order to be reunited, they would need to commit sin upon sin to get there. A religion perpetuated.

We find that Camille Spencer has used her global position and celebrity status to turn her daughter into the focal point of societal corruption. Madison is less than impressed, in fact she is appalled at the changes her innocent phone call thrust on society. Thus Madison seeks out her mother in order to communicate with her and hopefully put a cap on the idea that she is an angel. Further motivation stems for the final moments of Damned, where Satan informs Madison that she exists as a mere work a fiction, a creation of his.

Conflicted, Madison explores her past. She reflects on her role in her Grandfather’s death, the lack of true paternal love from her parents, and her own awkward existence within a privileged society. Her journey does not initiate her into life, rather Madison exposes the overabundance of holes in her story. Things are odd, convenient at times, and complicated beyond rational belief at others. She notes her own religious conflicts, her relationship with her fictional boyfriend Jesus, and attempts to come to grips with her past and the long line of telemarketing phone calls that seemed to shape it. As always with Palahniuk, depth and complexity lunge at you from nowhere, creating a unique plot through the filter of his mind.

While an entertaining read, Doomed is not Palahniuk at his finest. It is fun, full of his typical ironic humor and cunning and cutting outlook on life, yet the text falls a bit short of some his past work. The edge is there, but at times it is dull, dragging along in the mind of his early teen protagonist. She is complex, but not the fully rounded character that Palahniuk often creates. She is missing something, and at times the novel suffers for this fact. Nonetheless, the read is pleasurable and worth the time.

Favorite lines:
  • “The avant-garde in every field consists of the lonely, the friendless, the uninvited. All progress is the product of the unpopular.” 
  • “Instead of evolution, Charles Darwin seems to have invented attention deficit disorder, and his focus is constantly distracted by a different fungus … a novel, new arthropod…a brightly colored pebble.” 
  • “Gentle Tweeter, how peaceful is a world where everyone gives offense but no one takes it. Within my circle of vision everyone is littering and spitting, and no one seems put off by those uncivil acts.”
  • “Once I was born, I could see for myself that motherhood required no special skills. My general impression was that various glands come to the fore, and you’re rendered essentially a puppet or a slave to the timing of bodily secretions—colostrum, piddle, doo-doo. You’re always consuming or voiding some vital gunk.”

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