Ctrl+Alt+Yawn: Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk


(Doubleday, 2013)

Yes, Madison Desert Flower Rosa Parks Coyote Trickster Spencer may be an overweight thirteen-year-old dead girl condemned to Hell, but she still likes to stick it to the Miss Sleazy O’Sleaznicks of the living world when she gets a chance. She’s dead, not a victim. When the three aforementioned Miss Sleazy O’Sleaznicks have a little fun with summoning Madison’s prodigiously proportioned spirit to Earth on All Hallow’s Eve, the only night the dead are allowed to troll the streets for Twixes, Almond Joys and Salty Nut Bars, Madison turns the table on the three Miss Coozey Coozenheimers and causes them to Ctrl+Alt+Puke their night’s high calorie spoils all over themselves. After this little bit of fun, Madison high-tails it back to her demonic Lincoln Town Car to head back to Hell before her midnight curfew, lest she be banished to tedious Earth.

However, despite the fact that she conscientiously made enough of an allowance for time, Satan has other plans for Madison and traps her on Earth, where she walks as a ghost, observing the antics of her vain and superficially liberal celebrity parents, uncovering secrets of her past, and putting together pieces of a puzzle that indicate that her fate is not happenstance but has been Ctrl+Alt+Doomed from the start.

Doomed is Chuck Palahniuk’s follow-up to Damned and if you have read that you may have recognized my attempt to imitate Madison Spencer’s style of speech above (I don’t really talk like that). In Damned Madison found herself in Hell after a “marijuana overdose.” Of course, she eventually realized that wasn’t the cause of her death, and adventures around in Hell with her new friends Archer, Babette, a couple of others. Stuff happened, I don’t really remember it all and it really wasn’t that memorable, but still Damned was entertaining enough. The conclusion of Damned indicated rather disingenuously that the story would be continued, perhaps in a trilogy. At the time I wasn’t sure if that was really the case or of Palahniuk was just messing with us.

Well, Doomed answers that question, but where Damned was a mildly amusing “Breakfast Club set in Hell” (Palahniuk’s words), Doomed is a mildly amusing romp through Purgatory, as Madison goes through the world as a ghost. She encounters a guy named Crescent City, a self-styled “psychic bounty hunter,” hired by Madison’s parents to find her. Through controlled overdoses of ketamine, Crescent City (or “Mr. K,” as Madison Calls him) is able to enter the spirit world for a little while each time. Madison’s parents are eager to communicate with her spirit because a lot has happened since she last talked to the pre-dead.

As a joke, Madison told her parents in the last book, communicating with them by phone from Hell, that the path to salvation lies in the profane. Swear, use racial slurs, fart loudly, insult everyone you see–these are the things that will save your soul. It was just a bit of a laugh for Madison, but now she finds that an entire religion, “Boorism,” has developed around this concept. “Boorites” walk around happily saying stuff like “Eat shit, asswipe!” along with their how-do-you-dos, but no one is offended because they think this is what’s going to get them into heaven. But as Madison floats around watching her parents from her ghostly POV, she eventually puts together clues that indicate that nothing that has happened was by accident. Her birth, death, everything before, in-between and after, has been engineered by Satan for the purpose of a final showdown with The Big Guy (ie, God).

Where Doomed falls short, though, is that it all comes off as seeming somewhat insincere. Like its predecessor, Doomed is humorous without being hilarious, satirical without being clever and ultimately lacks any big payoff for the reader. While it is a fun read, not at all bad, it’s pretty uninspired, which sort of makes me wonder what Palahniuk’s intent is by spreading this out into a trilogy. Maybe there is something really great and clever in there, but I’m not seeing it. But Palahniuk’s most egregious offense in Doomed is a lack of offense. When you read Palahniuk you sort of expect to be offended or grossed out. Maybe it’s just me being jaded, but most of the stuff in Doomed seemed to me rather juvenile attempts to offend or be transgressive, almost as if Palahniuk, after a career of grossing people out, is feeling trapped within that mold. Even the men’s restroom glory hole penectomy failed to elicit any squirms from me.

All that being said, I’ll probably read the final installment (if it is, indeed, a trilogy–the ending left that unclear). Despite its shortcomings, Doomed is a passingly entertaining read. It’s just not remarkable.

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