The Divine Comedy as Reimagined by Chuck Palahniuk by Nick Abrahamson

Readers acquainted with Palahniuk will instantly recognize his signature style. His novels, beginning with his debut Survivor to his indictment of celebrity worship in Tell All, runneth over with caustic deadpan narration, morally bankrupt characters and impending doom. Where he might be accused of lacking finesse, he makes up for it with white knuckled rides careening through landscapes of degradation and excess.  Although a few of his antisocial fantasies of ruin have offended stodgier critics, his legions of fans keep his novels lodged firmly on the bestseller list.

Doomed picks up where Damned left off.  Madison, our 13 year-old hero, having navigated her way through hell—a terrain of toenail clipping mountains and rivers of scalding hot barf, populated by telemarketers and other undesirables—makes her way back to Earth as a ghost, or a “post alive” being.  The narrative alternates between her present mission of saving humanity from eternal damnation and recalling the childhood events that led to her untimely death.   

With Doomed, Palahniuk settles back into the R-rated Judy Blume voice that marked Damned, the first in the Palahniuk Divine Comedy trilogy.  Though the style is a major departure from most of his oeuvre, Palahniuk seems as relaxed as ever.  It’s remarkable how committed and self-possessed Palahniuk is crafting the voice of a precocious 13 year-old narrator.  His vision of hell is consistent with what an adult might project for a teenage girl:  spotty WiFi and “Mean Girls” peers.  Although Palaniuk admitted to reading Blume prior to the release of Damned, he seems to channel the irreverence of fellow blasphemer Christopher Moore in equal measure.  The jokes are crude, the bodily fluids in abundance, and the scatological humor ubiquitous.

Where Palahniuk once seemed to revel bitterly in his own ability to string together line after line of gut-punching pithy observations, Doomed reads like Palahniuk is breaking out of his formula and having a ball doing so. Gone is the edge, contempt, and disdain.  Instead of Tyler Durden explaining in astringent deadpan the steps involved in cooking up do-it-yourself nitroglycerine, we have the precocious polysyllabic voice of Madison, who fake texts Jesus and plays pranks on her former schoolmates from beyond the grave.  You can almost imagine a warm grin on Palahniuk’s face while he wrote this, as opposed to a twisted sneer.