Either you like Chuck Palahniuk or you don’t. I feel like beginning this review any other way is somewhat disingenuous. I personally find his style of writing to be interesting and entertaining. A lot of people will argue that most of his works are a big example of style over substance, and while this particular novel is highly stylized, from the voice of our narrator to the fact that Chuck seems more focused on providing a vivid depiction of his vision of Hell than he does in providing anything in the way of a developed narrative, the overall text really works on every level.
Damned is most definitely a satire. I don’t think any of Chuck Palahniuk’s books aren’t. There are parts of the book that really strike a chord. Palahniuk’s explanation of how deities over time are demonized by the cultures that overtake them and thereby confine them to the depths of hell is an interesting take on the progression of theology. Couple this with the way he explains the reasons for potential damnation and the reader can’t help but examine certain decisions they’ve made in their lives. Most people look at the religious side of damnation and believe that guilt is only applicable when it comes to larger elements of sin and this book posits that damnation might come as the result of casual actions that come as second nature to most. It’s an interesting take that has been done before but not quite so effectively.
Part of what makes the satire work so well is the fact that our audience surrogate is a 13 year old girl who is as disgusted with the annoying little parts of society that we are. Overbearing parents, tree-hugging hippies who abuse fossil fuel burning transport like it’s going out of style, pre-teen sluts, etc. While we may view her as somewhat naive at times it’s hard to disagree with her on her worldview. You start to hate what she hates on instinct as the book goes on. While some may be annoyed at her post-Whedonesque dialog, she’s an effective protagonist which is more than you can say about some of Chuck P’s previous audience surrogates.
For what it’s worth. It’s the ending that sold me. It was set up beautifully by a few lines of dialog early on but still felt like an ambush and the way the book wraps up I’m not entirely sure what is genuine and what isn’t with regard to the author’s intent which makes it fun to ruminate on and bumps it up a few notches in my opinion. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a somewhat light read (at least in comparison to Chuck Palahniuk’s other work) that is still challenging on more than a few levels.