REVIEWS+

Damned

Doubleday. Oct. 2011. 256p. ISBN 9780385533027. $24.95; eISBN 9780385533140.
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Daughter of a billionaire and a self-absorbed film star, 11-year-old Madison dies of a drug overdose during the Christmas holiday at her Swiss boarding school. She wakes up in hell and soon joins with other adolescent misfits in a sort of afterlife The Breakfast Club (actually referenced), then takes on Satan himself. Palahniuk's always a bit twisted, but while initially this sounded over-the-top funny, a quick look suggests it's more edgy social satire. Will it work? With a seven-city tour.
Smart but awkward, chubby Madison gets fried on marijuana and dies the night her Brangelina-like parents are accepting Oscars. She finds herself as one-fifth (the Ally Sheedy) of a new Breakfast Club, this one trapped in Hell rather than detention. Alongside the cheerleader, jock, nerd, and punk, Madison gains confidence battling history's villains and mythology's demons, wandering the bad candy-strewn landscape in search of Satan, whom she has decided is not such a bad guy. She also works as a telemarketer, enticing the diseased to join her in an afterworld that she likes better than life.
VERDICT As in Tell-All, Palahniuk takes a high concept and kills it with a meandering plot and an unsatisfying conclusion. His humor occasionally scores, but the best jokes are repeated until they become more annoying than funny. Thirteen-year-old Madison reads like a snarky grad student, while other characters barely register. The oceans of bodily fluids in this Hell could serve as a symbol for Palahniuk's wasted talent. Longtime fans will be left wishing for his return from limbo. [Seven-city tour; see Prepub Alert, 4/11/11.]—Neil Hollands, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA

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