“Are you there Satan? It’s me Madison.”
According to Madison Spencer, the bar for getting sent to Hell for all eternity is pretty low. Maddy knows, because at 13, she’s one of the Damned; sentenced to roam the unending landscape of misery, punctuated by the Sea of Wasted Sperm and the Mountain of Toenail Clippings, where candy is currency, call-center operators really are Satan’s minions and The English Patient is projected everywhere on an endless loop.
Each chapter begins with Madison addressing Satan, reminding him of events leading to her demise, or asking questions about life in Hell. It’s clear she expects Satan will accept her overtures of friendship, mostly due to her prepubescent affection for being hopeful in all things. Maddy makes friends with some of the other younger inhabitants of Hell and they guide and instruct her on how to survive eternal damnation. I guess one of the reasons Palahniuk made Madison only 13 is because his imagined Hell is pretty juvenile and not terribly artful.
We learn during the first half of the book that Madison is the daughter of a billionaire and a very famous actress, known for adopting children from the world’s most horribly destitute destinations. Maddy is jaded from the constant travel and living the extravagant lifestyles of the rich and famous and only enjoys spending time with her Mom as a particularly youthful girlfriend rather than as her child.
Madison is immediately intrigued by her newest adoptive brother, Goran, a punkish teen from an un-named east-european state, known for tying unwanted orphans to their beds for years and giving them little or no affection or stimulation. Madison falls head over heels and on the night of the Oscars, she plots to spend the night alone with him in the hotel suite her parents are occupying for the festivities. The night does not end well, but it takes a while before we get the skinny.
I’ve only read a couple of Palahniuk’s books, and I did enjoy reading this one, but from the beginning it felt samey and similar to his other novels, albeit with less sex and a much younger, female protagonist. Madison is not terribly interesting as a character and her evolution from hopeful young girl to avenging demon-slayer is a bit overplayed. It did make the second half of the book more entertaining, but not by much. Basically, he’s written twelve novels, so there are better choices, but if you really must read everything by Palahniuk, it’s not a complete time suck.
Image: George Grosz. Cain, or, Hitler in Hell. 1944. Oil on canvas. Private collection.