Everyone wants to be a savior in Chuck Palahniuk’s Doomed

Doomed, Chuck Palahniuk, Damned

Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk is the second book in a trilogy. Damned being the first; it’s about a young girl (whose parents are celebrities) who dies and is sent to hell. Doomed is about the same girl living in purgatory on earth. The third and final book is yet to be released. The books are composed of chapter long tweets, with Madison appealing to Dr. Maya Angelou whenever she needs strength: “Please, Dr. Maya, give me the strenth to not use an emoticon.” (Palahniuk, 29)

While Madison is in hell in Damned, she phones her parents to tell them they need to be evil to go to heaven. She lies to them because she is a young, lonely girl who misses her parents. The phone call is a seemingly innocuous scene because we stay with Madison, in hell, and are kept out of earth where her parents are living. We are reintroduced to her parents in Doomed, and discover that they believed Madison and because they are celebrities they have direct access to the press and the public. Madison tweets:

“Passing gas. Belching. Picking your nose and flicking the boogers. Leaving your used chewing gum on park benches. These are the prayers of a new major world religion, and it’s all my fault. My goal was just to reunite my little family, albeit in Hell. I told my parents to double-park and say the F-bomb and discard cigarette butts on the ground because I knew those acts would surely send them to Hell. And because they couldn’t keep their mouths shut, now they’ve doomed a thousand million souls to eternal misery.

Gentle Tweeter, what I told my folks, I was only kidding. All I wanted to do was cheer them up. . . . This, this is why the dead don’t talk to the future dead. Predead folks always misconstrue every message. Here I was only fooling around, and my mom’s founded an entire theology on my practical joke. . . . Ye gods. Now we have ‘Boorism’, an entire international religious movement founded on potty humor and rude behavior”. (64)

What initially appeared to be a story of damnation slowing morphs into a story of a savior coming to terms with her destiny. Her grandfather asks her, “What if I told you, . . . that you was born the greatest human being who’ll ever live? . . . What if your destiny was to patch things up between God and Satan?” (83)

Doomed, Chuck Palahniuk, Damned

Palahniuk explores what is a martyr and what that means to different people. He gives us an entire family—child, mother, father, adopted brother, grandmother, and grandfather. Oh, and a kitten. (One of the most tragic side stories: her actor-activist parents cannot commit to anything beyond four months and so they adopt a kitten with leukemia.)

Madison tries to protect herself, and save her grandmother by eating all of her cooking. Madison’s mother is “a secular martyr. She is the saint of our modern era—nothing less than our Moral Compass—ritualistically sacrificed time and time again. (170) Madison’s father commits adultery to save himself and his wife. A ghost hunter overdoses on ketamine to die and locate Madison to save her. Madison’s grandmother knows what Madison did and offers Madison multiple chances to confess her horrific accidental actions. Madison’s parents reveal Madison’s damning rules to the world in order to save it. And so everyone is using racist, homophobic, misogynistic slurs as they insult friends and strangers. Everyone is treating everyone like shit to save themselves and each other. All because little Madison wants her parents to spend eternity with her (in hell).

Amidst all these people trying to get into heaven, there is one person who was living in the absolute immediate, Madison. She wants her parents’ attention so she pretends to be a sexual deviant, then she attempts to shock them by becoming a devout Christian and claiming to speak to Jesus. Later, she carries a dead kitten with her for half a chapter, pretending it’s alive while everyone knows it’s dead. But eventually, she realizes her doomed reality, “It’s not overly flattering: the concept that I’ve been born and bred and fattened like a calf for some ritual slaughter. ” (259)

Part of her living in the immediate with no thought of the future leads to a scene that starts out innocently enough and then quickly develops into something horrid. And after it finally ends, it still gets worse. I will not share it because I would never take Palahniuk’s storytelling away from you. I would never do it justice and I would be stealing a horrible shock as a reader from you. I will say the scene is quite horrid (well written, well developed, aligned with Madison’s character) and will stick with you. I was sick after I read it. I was emotionally upset and disgusted. And while to some this is a bad thing, for me, it is a sign of a good book. Palahniuk’s ability to write empathetic characters with shocking stories is his true genius. His stories are believable, even though some of the characters include Satan, guardian angels, a ghost hunter, and a dead girl.

Doomed, Chuck Palahniuk, Damned

Chuck Palahniuk, Doomed. Doubleday: New York, 2013.

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