Book Review: Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk

Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk follows Madison Spencer, the liveliest, snarkiest dead girl in the universe, who continues the adventures in the afterlife begun in Damned. Having somewhat reluctantly escaped from Hell, she now wanders the Purgatory that is Earth as a ghostly spirit, seeking her do-gooding celebrity parents, fighting the malign control of Satan, recounting the disgracefully funny (to us, anyway) encounter with her grandfather in a fetid highway rest stop in upstate New York when she…oh, never mind, and climaxing in a rendezvous with destiny on the new, totally plastic continent in the Pacific called, not at all accidentally, Madlantis.

DoomedI have read every novel Chuck has written, and this is – by far – his most ambitious and apocalyptic. It also is the second book in his first series. Still, I’m not new to Chuck and have grown to expect something that challenges the norms and pushes so far beyond good taste, it bypasses bad taste and gets deep into downright revolting.

Doomed does not disappoint in this regard. The story unfolds in a number of blog posts by dead, 12-year old Madison Spencer, who is now wandering the earth as a ghost, and it repeatedly rewards readers of Damned (the first book in the series) by the events that occur, but reading Damned is not a prerequisite to enjoying Doomed. It is encouraged, though.

The story is quite good in a  vulgar way. I have a feeling that I would have enjoyed the outline of this novel more than the novel itself, because it’s the details that Doomed gets wonky.

 

   Warning!  Spoilers Ahead

 

 

 

 

My problems with the book are the same as in Damned, and that is the voice of Madison does not sound like anything close to a twelve year-old.  It sounds like an adult who is trying to sound like a twelve year-old. Sadly, there were scenes in Doomed that completely failed for me because of this, and one of them was a key scene in the highway rest stop. For a girl who came across so worldly and knowing in the things she says, to not be able to tell an erect penis from a dog poop (and yes, she lost her glasses and it was blurry to her but, c’mon) left me completely unable to buy-in on the events that transpired.

The silly, middle-school-speak attempts like, “CTRL+ALT+Surprised” and “Fatty-Miss-Fat-Fat” and “Pervy Mr. Perv” slang – that is far too prevalent throughout the book – only accentuated this failure more. It was weak and ineffective, and I know Chuck has been challenged on this point before in reviews for Damned. Other times, Madison spoke in far more educated and worldly terms. I think Chuck is trying to address that by having Madison sentiently comment about her comment, but it did not work for me.

That might sound like a foundational failing of the novel but really, it isn’t at all. It does make Doomed less than perfect, but there were some fantastic moments, like the chapter about the adopting the cat or the parts about the Boorish Religion that absolutely floored me. These had me laughing out loud.  So few authors can actually solicit a true laugh from me, it is worth noting and should matter for something.

With such a mixed bag, I have trouble rating this one, but Chuck really defies pigeon-holes, don’t you think? Still, I have to go thumbs up or down.

Recommended, but only if you read Damned and liked it enough to want more. For new readers of Chuck – consider Fight Club, Choked or Survivor, which are early Chuck P. primers.

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