Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk

Doubleday, 336 pages, $24.95 (release date 10/8/13)

Ye, Gods! (To borrow Zaneeta Shinn's favorite saying in "The Music Man" and one that this Doom's heroine echoes.) Chuck Palahniuk is an innovative, excrementally lyrical, warped son-of-a-gun.

Doomed is the follow-up to Damned and continues the story of Madison Desert Flower Rosa Parks Coyote Trickster Spencer, who died at the age of 13. Her hip-to-the-tip parents, Antonio and Camille, soon after her death make it their life's mission to proselytize the gospel according to Madison. According to Madison (contacted psychically in the hereafter), they say, you will only get to heaven if you slough off conventional civility and swear a lot, fart a lot, and make rude gestures. Their many followers gleefully do just that. Everyone is happy to know that heaven does exist and that the key to the pearly gates is so easily obtained.

It's a world gone mad. Or a world gone Maddy, actually.

Most of Doomed is told in blog form by the ghost of Madison Spencer, interrupted occasionally by the oracular pronouncements of someone else blogging from hell. Madison reminisces mostly about the significant events that occurred when she was 11, especially the unsavory death of her mother's father, Papadaddy Ben, who is presented as a rural hayseed, in contrast to his daughter, a famous actress and serial adopter of cultural trends.

Madison refers to the living as predead, future dead, predecomposed. She, of course, is postlife. Although she is the object of adoration and the putative key to heaven, she actually has gone to hell. (It's an updated version of Dante's inferno, with contemporary cultural references.) Now she has been exiled to wander as a ghost in the world of the living. Her afterlife digestion of the world is this: "My thoughts occur as flavorful burps or acrid barf. The indigestible gristle and bone of my memories are expelled as these words."

She is doomed to helplessly experience a world she inadvertently created among the "Boors," the acolytes of the new Madison-based religion. The contradictory side-effect of all this boorishness and rising methane level is that there is no longer hate. "'You created world peace!'" ecstatically shouts Crescent City, a physically vile, drug-addled medium, who is sworn to bring Maddy to her predead parents for more postdead heavenly revelations. On the other hand, the Devil, mostly depicted as a limousine chauffeur, is counting on her to "trigger the end of days."

There's no easy way to explain this book. It's an absurdist's mythological romp through our pop culture. It's a far-out, far-flung satirization of both the right and the left. It's the beginning of the end of the world that certainly is determined to go out with a bang, not a whimper.

Palahniuk deals out both these sentences with equal zest: "Hydrolysis causes the scission of polymer chains," and "'Did we bury you … not wearing underpants?'" He grabs every cause, religion, fad, agitprop, god (musical or otherwise) and flays them open, offers them at the altar of Ctrl+Alt+In-Your-Face, and tears the universe a new hole. (Also, he probably owes about $3 in royalties to Joss Whedon for a Buffy Summers-type ending.)

And what's the next book going to be called? Destiny? Deviled? Ditsy?

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