Sightseeing in Hell

Chuck Palahniuk
Johnathan Cape, 2011
Review by Staff Writer, Cody Mauro

Welcome to hell. Or at least Chuck Palahniuk’s vision of it, where there’s oceans of ejaculate, candy is currency, and there’s only two jobs: telemarketer or porn star. Palahniuk’s 12th novel, Damned, answers the questions we’ve been wondering about for years in regards to eternal damnation in the afterlife: Will I go to hell? Why do telemarketers keep calling me at dinner time? Where do all of those aborted fetuses go? As Damned is now available on paperback and Palahniuk’s next released book is set to be its sequel, it’s time we look into the novel and find out if it’s really worth the read.

Damned follows the story of Madison Spencer, a thirteen year old girl, who, to her surprise, is not only dead, but also wandering around in eternal hellfire. She immediately makes friends with those around her, a beauty queen, a football star, a punk, and a mythologically well-read nerd, forming a team that the author himself describes as “the Breakfast Club set in hell.” As the story progresses, Maddy finds herself coping with her eternal resting place, speaking with the living through telemarketing phone calls, and even massaging the clitoris of a giant demon.

As if the previous paragraphs didn’t give a clear indication, Chuck Palahniuk uses graphically-rude humor to paint vivid picture of the setting, his idea of hell; a place full of swamps of partially aborted fetuses, deserts of dandruff, and of course, pools of the aforementioned wasted bodily fluids. There’s no arguing the books crudeness, rudeness, and just all around silliness. And as the narrative progresses, the absurdity grows and grows. However, the juxtaposition of the comical story in what would be a normally serious setting works well. Palahniuk uses fallen gods and mythological characters within the setting, bringing more life to an already colorful scene. From this book, you can learn a little bit about mythology and see some religious satire on how the gods themselves are confined to hell. While hell and damnation has certainly been done before, Palahniuk’s idea of the particular setting is original and fun.

Unfortunately, despite an impressive setting the story that takes place within, it is predicated on shock value. Plot is furthered by an escalation of absurdity, like Palahniuk thought to himself, “How can I gross out readers more?” or “How can I catch the reader off-guard with absurdity” on every page. It becomes tiresome after awhile. As a result, the plot lacks complexity or enticing conflict. The plot that does seep from the pages is a typical story of a girl “finding herself” (whatever that means), albeit in a marvelously rich environment. Moreover, the young teenage arrogance of the narrator tends to peak through as she constantly brings up that she may “be fat and thirteen,” but she “still knows” some fact or another. It can be annoying at times, as it occurs quite frequently – it certainly doesn’t help bring the plot back from beyond the grave of overdone plot lines. Take this story, and change the setting from hell to Vermont, California, China, or what have you. What’s left is flat, boring, and unoriginal. It’s been seen before.

In the end, your enjoyment of this novel will come entirely from what you expect going in. This book does not have a life altering message like Palahniuk’s other novels, specifically Fight Club. More than likely, you will not find your self a better person for having read this book. You may find yourself turning the pages to see Palahniuk’s unique style of writing or fantastical setting, but not for the narrative or story itself.

But what Damned does bring to the table is a piece of fiction that is easy, gross, ironic, and most importantly, fun. It is a good read for when you sit upon your porcelain throne, or something to look over as you tuck yourself to sleep. So if you’re looking to laugh and not much else, Damned is dagger in the dark, that may misfire if you’re expecting great things.


Plot: Misfire

It’s been done before. Think Catcher in the Rye, but instead of Holden Caulfield, it’s a thirteen year-old in hell.

Characters: Hammer

The narrator can be annoying at times, the other characters are cliché (jock, nerd, etc). And while Palahniuk undoubtedly writes those cliches well, that doesn’t change the fact that they are, well, cliches.

Creativity: Sword

This is what the story really has going for it. Palahniuk’s vision of hell is fascinating, colorful, and funny.

Unreality: Misfire

Take away the wonderful setting and you’re left with a boring story we’ve seen before. But there is no denying that Palahniuk writes well and certainly has a distinctive voice. Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t save the novel.
If you’re inspired to see Palahniuk’s setting yourself, or you want to find out how this book is on your own, you can purchase it here
Or visit his website here

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