“Damned” by Chuck Palahniuk

by Chuck Palahniuk
Read by Tai Sammons
Published by Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2011)
7 hours and 25 minutes

Ever since “Fight Club” I’ve been a huge fan of Chuck Palahniuk, mainly because of the social commentary thrown into every book. Sometimes it is subtle but most of the time it comes right out and slaps you in the face while kicking you in the groin, screaming “look at how things are or what they could be.” This time around Palahniuk pretty much damns us all to hell. In this book we find out that a person is allowed to use the “F”-word 700 times but use it 701 times and you are damned to hell. Also there are limited numbers of times you can throw cigarette butts out, pee in a public pool and honk your car horn. So I guess it’s hopeless. On top of that every time you spit on the sidewalk the warm saliva trickles down to hell to create a mass ocean, or worse yet do you ever wonder where those fingernail and toenail clippings fly off to? They end up in their own Mountain in hell and I won’t even talk about the lake of sperm. To make things worse “The English Patient” plays on endless repeat, roaming demons devour sinners limb by limb, and the damned interrupt your dinner from their sweltering call center to hardsell you Hell.

So now that I’ve set the stage for Hell, or rather given you a taste of Palahniuk’s Hell, let’s talk about this book. This book grabs you from the onset with the beginning of every chapter starting out with the line; “Are you there Satan? It’s me Maddy. (Or Madison or her full name depending on where in the story the main character stands in discovering her life in hell.) So Chuck seems to be channeling a bit of Judy Blume through this story. He has described the novel as “if The Shawshank Redemption had a baby by The Lovely Bones and it was raised by Judy Blume.”and “it’s kind of like The Breakfast Club set in Hell.” Palahniuk said the novel was written as a way to deal with the death of his mother from breast cancer in 2009.

Wait a minute, “Breakfast Club”? you ask. Yep, when Madison Spencer wakes up in hell dying from what she at first believes to be an overdose of smoking marijuana, she is only 13 after all, she is the nerdy girl, the Ally Sheedy of the movie “The Breakfast Club.” Where as she then meets Babbette, the popular girl, Archer, the rebel, and a jock. So this Hellish Breakfast Club breaks out of their cages and proceed to make their way across Hell battling demons, avoiding all the icky stuff only to lead Madison to Hell’s admin offices where she is interviewed to determine why she is damned. While waiting on the results, she becomes employed as a telemarketer where the phone system is set to call only when people are sitting down to dinner. While talking to the living she convinces them that all people are going to Hell so they might as well make it worth while, thus convincing an elderly woman to burn down a church before she goes and for a dying girl with AIDS (everyone who gets AIDS goes to hell no matter how they contracted the disease) to bring her some Milky Way candy bars when she dies, which will be soon.

Through the adventures of Maddy in Hell, we discover that Maddy is the daughter of a famous actress and millionaire who run an uncanny resemblance to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, especially when they are constantly adopting children from around the world. It turns out that their latest adoptee is a refugee from Croatia (or somewhere around there) and becomes the love interest of the extremely naive Maddy. Madison slowly pieces together the cause of her death and tries to figure out the possible reasons for her damnation all while telemarketing for Hell and conquering the Demons and evil that dwells within Hell.

Tai Sammons does a superb job of reading the story and since it is told in first person from Madison Spencer’s point of view her voice fits perfect to the character, from being a complete naive 13-year-old to a recruiter of her own army to defeat Hell’s demons, Hitler and Idi Amin. All the while stabbing a pitchfork into the Hollywood lifestyle with Chuck Pahlanuik’s words.