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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Drawings of Pee-Pees and Wee-Wees: "Damned" by Chuck Palahniuk

Okay, so before I get too far into my first book review, I should probably explain the title of this column. For those that might not be aware, Seinfeld is one of my all-time favorite shows. It's one of those shows that I can watch over and over and never get sick of. As a result, I decided I wanted to name this column after something in the show. One of my all-time favorite performances on the show was in the episode entitled "The Library". Actor Philip Baker Hall plays Lt. Bookman, a veteran library police officer. After tracking down Jerry due to an overdue book, Bookman utters one of the funniest lines ever on the show (and a great reading to boot):

"Maybe we can live without libraries, people like you and me. Maybe. Sure, we're too old to change the world, but what about that kid, sitting down, opening a book, right now, in a branch at the local library and finding drawings of pee-pees and wee-wees on the Cat in the Hat and the Five Chinese Brothers? Doesn't HE deserve better? Look. If you think this is about overdue fines and missing books, you'd better think again."

And thus, "Drawings of Pee-Pees and Wee-Wees" was born. Okay, now that that's out of the way, onto the book review.

A little over a week ago, I was given the chance to receive a free copy of Chuck Palahniuk's latest novel, titled Damned in advance, provided I do a review for it. This book won't be released for at least another five weeks to the general public, so I jumped at the chance. Palahniuk just happens to be my favorite author, and I own every book he's ever written, including both non-fiction works. Although some of Palahniuk's works are better than others, I have yet to be disappointed with a single one of his books.

I can tell you right off the bat that Damned is no exception.

The story is about about Madison Spencer, a thirteen year-old girl who has just woken up in a jail cell in Hell, dying from what she believes was a marijuana overdose. Madison is somewhat of a troubled child. She was raised by very wealthy parents, with her mother being an award-winning actress. Her parents were very liberal with her, and not only allowed her to experiment with sex and drugs, but actually encouraged to do so. Even still, Maddy (as her mother calls her) was kind of an outsider, never really wanting to do the things her parents wanted her to, rebelling at every chance she could. When she wakes up in Hell, she is met by four other seemingly normal teenagers who are also spending eternity in the devil's hometown. There's Babette, a somewhat snobby rich kid. Patterson, a football player. Archer, a punk rocker-type. And Leonard, a brainy geek.

If this sounds a lot like the John Hughes classic The Breakfast Club, you are right on track. Palahniuk makes no bones about comparing the two, and refers to The Breakfast Club on numerous occasions throughout the story. Anyway, after Archer manages to bust the other four out of their cells thanks to a safety pin he has pierced through his cheek, the fivesome set off on a journey literally through the pits of Hell in hopes of not only hoping to bring Maddy face-to-face with Satan himself, but to also find out if she truly belongs here.

Throughout the journey, in between coming across "landmarks" such as the Ocean of Wasted Sperm and the Valley of Used Disposable Diapers, they will not only meet demons of varying types who can be paid off with candy bars-the currency in Hell, but historical villains as well, ranging from Caligula to Adolf Hitler. All of these confrontations are mere obstacles for Maddy and her new-found friends as they make their way to a (hopefully) eventual meeting with the Dark Prince himself.

Damned is definitely different from Chuck Palahniuk's other works, and that's definitely saying something. While every Palahniuk novel is very different from all the others, this one definitely stands out. Partially because it doesn't take place on Earth; partially because, despite the setting, it is not nearly as graphic as some of his other works. However, it being a stand-out is most definitely not a bad thing.

While I don't know if Damned is my favorite book of Palahniuk's (at least, not yet; that honor still goes to a tie between Diary and Snuff), it's still an excellent read, and is easily Palahniuk's funniest work. His sense of humor really comes out in this book, and I don't mean the dry, dark humor that is normally so commonplace in his novels. Damned actually had me laughing out loud at several points, a rarity for Chuck Palahniuk works in my case.

Now, as I said, this is not nearly as graphic as previous novels from the artist. However, that's not to say there aren't some gruesome parts. At one point, the Iranian demon Ahriman strips Patterson of all of his meat and flesh in a pseudo-cannibalistic display of hunger, while Archer's disembodied head is forced to give oral sex to the female demon Psezpolnica in order to continue their adventure. However, the truly graphic parts in this work are pretty tame compared to other novels, and there aren't that many of them.

One of the things I like about Chuck Palahniuk is how much studying he does in preparation for each work. While his books (save two) are all works of fiction, they feature actual facts, myths or legends about a varying degree of topics, and Damned is no exception. There are numerous references to very demons, gods and goddesses from various parts of the world that have existed-at least, in stories-over the centuries, as well as the actual stories behind them and what they were rumored to have done. As I said earlier, the group also runs into various historical figures, and I can assure you that every figure mentioned here is not only legitimate, but for some of the more obscure ones, Palahniuk describes what they were known for throughout the centuries.

I would give more information, but I don't want to spoil the story. As an avid reader, I know how readers think, and they don't like to have the story spoiled for them before it's read. I will say, however, that the evolution of Madison's character throughout the book is very interesting, and in my opinion at least, very clever. Maddy is a very loveable character right off the bat, and the further she gets into the adventure-in between narrative parts about her life before she died, the more you fall in love with her. She will very much remind you of Ally Sheedy's character in The Breakfast Club, not only because the characters are similar, but because Maddy compares herself to Sheedy on more than one occasion.

Damned is a great read, and as an added bonus, it is less than 250 pages, which makes it a very fast read to boot. Like I said, it's not necessarily my favorite novel by Chuck Palahniuk, but it is definitely his funniest. Although the setting of Hell was quite a departure from every single other book he's written, it was a welcome change, and his description of the setting is very different than probably any other description of Hell you've ever seen or read.

If you're already a fan of Chuck Palahniuk, this book will probably do nothing more than strengthen your fandom for the dark humorist. If you've never read a Palahniuk novel before, then this is a great work to start with.

I give Damned four out of five stars.


  1. Sounds pretty awesome, I may have to check that out.

  2. @EroMojo: I highly recommend it, Jon.