The Short Version: Madison Spencer, previously damned to hell, is still dead. But after she misses her curfew on Halloween night, she ends up stuck on Earth as a ghost – Purgatory, if you will. As she returns to her former haunts (buh dum tsh!), we start to discover more about her life and her history and it suddenly becomes clear that maybe her damnation wasn’t an accident after all. Maddie Spencer might, in fact, be far more important than anybody quite realized…
The Review: When Chuck announced that he was going to be writing a sequel to Damned, I was naturally a bit suspicious. That book, while the best thing he’d written in nearly five years at that point, was strangely missing something – a sense of the why all of this was happening. Doomed provides us with a bit of that why – but the sense of something missing remains. It’s a curious conundrum.
Let’s start with the obvious, the good: Chuck’s writing has definitely matured. There’s a more languid sense to it, a move away from the hyperkinetic shock of his earlier novels, and that’s nice. His voice is still there, but it feels a little more restrained – and as a result, when it splashes out in full (which it does, occasionally), it has even more of an impact. I laughed, uncontrollably, at a particularly gross section that felt like one of the most Palahniukian passages he’s written in a very long time. And you know what? It felt good.
The other thing is that writing a series seems, in an odd way, to agree with him. I still wish it was Rant that got a series – that book remains steady as the last truly excellent Palahniuk novel – but seeing him return to a character and return to an idea is another sign of maturity as an author: he’s able to expand, explore, experiment.
My issue comes with the (again – had this problem with Damned, too) lack of any real discernable plot until the end. I mean, there’s a plot insofar as there are events that happen and all of them seem to be leading towards a particular thing… but we get more backstory than we do present-tense-action and as a result, the whole structure of the thing feels mixed-up and backwards. It should be the other way around, especially considering the major Good and Evil questions at stake here. Instead, we learn more about Madison (things that I would wager would change the fundamentals of Damned a bit – wonder if he’ll do an edit…) but only inch forward in terms of what it is she’s here to do. There’s a lot of talk, at the end, about what her purpose on Earth is/was/will be… and if you read the first book, you’ll know pretty quickly where this is all heading – but we leave this book on not a cliffhanger so much as an abrupt cut-to-black. This is absolutely the middle book of a trilogy – but it barely sustains itself as an individual piece. Knowledge of what has come before is crucial and the conclusion will, I feel (and hope) bring alllllll of these things together in a coherent, wacky fashion.
Rating: 3 out of 5. It’s a quick read (as are all of Chuck’s books) and I definitely enjoyed it – even if it didn’t pack the same punch as those classic earlier novels. But one thing is clear: Chuck is back. Damned was not an aberration. While Doomed doesn’t exactly stand up on its own two feet, it’s still worth the read and it’ll only be after we see the final book in the trilogy (Delivered? That’s my guess, anyway – totally hypothetical, but that’s my guess) that we’ll really know what’s what.
And while I can’t order my signed books from St. Helen’s anymore (RIP), I did manage to get this galley signed by Chuck at BEA this year – so that was pretty cool. As I told him then, I’ll read whatever he writes – especially if this presages a renaissance in his work.