cover image Damned

Damned

Chuck Palahniuk. Doubleday, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-385-53302-7

Move over, Dante, there's a new tour guide to hell: Madison Spencer, the 13-year-old narrator of Palahniuk's cliché-ridden latest bulletin of phoned-in outrage. After self-asphyxiating, Madison wakes up in hell and quickly finds, as she's put to work prank-calling people at dinnertime, that her new home is not much different from Saturday detention in The Breakfast Club. Embarking on a field trip with some new friends, Madison fights demons, raises an army of the dead, and storms the gates of Satan's citadel. At the same time, she flashes back to her unhappy life as the daughter of a self-absorbed movie star mother and a financial tycoon father who collect Third World orphans. Unfortunately, Palahniuk's hell turns out to be a familiar place, filled with long lines, celebrities, dictators, mass murderers, lawyers, and pop culture references and jokes repeated until they are no longer funny. In the end, the author seems to be saying that the real hell is the banality of our earthly lives, an observation that itself seems a little too banal to power this work of fiction. (Oct.)