Madison is the only biological daughter of a successful businessman and an award winning actress. When we first meet Madison, she’s riding along in a car with her mother, as she flips through houses that they own all around the world, using a laptop. She spies on the maids, fiddles with the temperatures, and locks doors. Madison watches as her mother changes the lighting in a house in Europe. Her parents continuously adopt children from third world countries to stay relevant, so she’s hardly physically alone before they’re shipped off to boarding school. Whether she has the company of her siblings, or her mother is sitting beside her opening the curtains of a house in South America, Madison cannot help but feel out of place and alone. Her only escape is that she dies.
How Madison dies remains a mystery throughout much of the book, as she makes friends and enjoys success in the bowels of Hell; a world where candy is currency and the landscapes are made from bodily wastes and scraps. It isn’t particularly all fire and brimstone, but it is populated by cannibalistic demons, torture, and telemarketing. She and her friends explore lakes of insects, hills of wasted fingernail clippings, and other assorted pleasantries, trying to make the best of their existence amongst Hitler, Charles Darwin, and anyone that honks their car horn more than the allotted number of times.
This isn’t your usual Chuck Palahniuk book starring some down on his luck protagonist mired by the doom and gloom of a go-nowhere lifestyle. This isn’t a story told in fragmented sentences, with the verse-chorus-verse format that you’ve come to know and love, or hate, from the body of Palahniuk’s work. The writing here is far more introspective, and drawn out. These are full complete passages written in a language that’s passable as the voice of a thirteen year-old girl, with the style and grace of a practiced author working out some demon of their own. It is rumored that Palahniuk drafted this story at his dying mother’s bedside, which makes some of the context here all the more troubling.
And despite the fact that this story is about a dead girl trying to find her place in the underworld, and trying to make sense of her place in life, attempting to make sense and peace with her own death, Damned is one of the funniest pieces that’s been written for some time. There are lines and scenarios amongst pools of abandoned semen and partial-birth fetuses that are simply laugh-out-loud hilarious. Rumored to be the first in a trilogy, Damned is easily Palahniuk’s best work in years, arguably since Lullaby, and it gives new reason to be looking forward to his next book; not because of a pending train wreck, but because the set-up and the outcomes that are established in Damned easily leave the reader asking for more.