Damned by Chuck Palahniuk
Read by Tai Sammons
Length: About 8 Hrs.
Genre: Horror, Dark Comedy
Quick Thoughts: Chuck Palahniuk has written a darkly comedic, highly irreverent tale of damnation that reads like Dante’s Inferno meets The Breakfast Club as directed by Kevin Smith. Fair warning though, listeners who are easily offended or grossed out by visually disgusting scenery may have trouble making it through Damned unscathed.
Some say that, purely on a sociologically level, taking your child to church has many positive benefits for a developing child, emotionally, behaviorally, and cognitively. As a child, I attended church four times a week, twice on Sunday, on Wednesday for prayer meetings, and Fridays for AWANA club, and that is not including youth group outings and other church events. Spending that much time in church did foster some positive traits in me, including a fascination with mythology, a sense of irreverence to the divine, and mistrust of authority figures. It also is the foundation of my love of the horror genre. One of the first books I actually remember reading is The Bible, and lets face it, The Bible is full of more horrors than a Stephen King novel, heck, even his early work. It’s full of plagues, horrific murders, genocide, demonic possession of both humans and swine, and an eschatological acid trip of a book full of multi-headed monsters, astronomical destruction and total war. As a child I was told stories of women driving tent spikes into the heads of their tormentors, fat kings being stabbed so deep the knife gets lodged into their gut, and of course, that one day, those who don’t believe as we do will be left on earth to deal with plagues, monsters and the Antichrist. So, with all that taught to me, as a child, how was I not supposed to become a fan of horror? Yet, there is one thing that I always found the King James Version (the only true version of the Bible) lacking in was a true vivid description of hell. For this reason, I was always fascinated by fictional tales of hell, from classics like Dante’s Inferno, to reimaginings like Niven’s Escape from Hell, and recent books like Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series. And now, another entering the fray, is Damned by Chuck Palahniuk.
Damned is the story of 13 year old Madison Spencer. Madison is not your typical novel heroine. She is the chunky, prepubescent daughter of Hollywood hipsters. She was raised in a series of houses across the globe by self obsessed parents. Madison is a fascinating character, she is equal parts world wise and naive. She despises her parents almost as much as she loves them, and while disgusted by the notion of sex, is insanely in love with her adopted third world brother. Oh, plus she is dead and in hell. Now, a warning, like most of Palahniuk’s work, this is not a novel for everyone. Damned reads like Dante’s Inferno meets The Breakfast Club as directed by Kevin Smith. It is irreverent, and bizarrely twisted. If you are a Conservative and touchy about it, you very well may hate this book. If you are a Liberal and touchy about it, you may hate this book even more. If you were in any way offended by what I wrote in the first paragraph, then may I suggest the latest Nicholas Spark’s novel. Heck, even if you are the most unoffendable person out there, but a highly visual reader, who is potentially put off by some of the most stomach turning visual scenery out there, you may have trouble escaping Damned unscathed. That being established, I loved this book. Palahniuk has written a formulaic, repetitive novel, yet, it is his formula and the repeated use of the same jokes over and over had me laughing every time. The story itself is sparse but fascinating, and the characters wonderfully conceived. I’m sure people more talented in literary criticism will find much to pick apart in Palahniuk’s style and execution of Damned, but for me, a listener who just wants to be entertained in a unique and compelling way, Damned hit its mark.
Tai Sammons, I believe, was a perfect choice for this audiobook. Sammons isn’t your silky smooth narrator, who handles prose with perfect pitch and rhythm. Her reading can be idiosyncratic and a bit awkward, which fit the personality of Madison just right. Damned couldn’t be an easy read, being a first person tale of a sarcastic yet naive 13 year old, but Sammon’s pulled it off. Like Palahniuk as a writer, it would be easy to pick apart Sammons reading, searching for technical issues, but, her voice, her cadence, full of awkward pauses and stunted rhythms became Madison for me. If this would have been my first experience with Sammon’s as a narrator, I may have wondered about her narrating skills in general, but having heard her before, I know that this was a case of a narrator making insightful character choices. Fans of irreverent, darkly comedic novels should definitely give Damned a shot, for others, well, all I can say is Buyer Beware.
Note: A Special thanks to the good people of Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.