I've just experience my first heartbreak as an aspiring writer.
Last weekend, I was browsing in Barnes and Noble, when I came across Chuck Palahniuk's Damned. I'm a fan of Palahniuk and Damned, now in paperback, had slipped my attention. I picked it and read the description. Devastation. The story seemed to be remarkably similar to the novel that I'm currently writing and one that I have been workshopping.
I calmed myself. Maybe it just seemed to be similar. I bought the book to check it out for myself. Although it is very different than what I'm writing ( and hell, just Palahniuk's tone is so unique to him), there are enough similarities to make me rethink key components of my story.
PLOT - Thirteen year old Madison Spencer is the newest arrival in hell. The daughter of an eccentric celebrity couple, her life on earth was mainly lived as another accessory for her parents. Fat and awkward, popularity has not come easily to Madison. She is unsure of how she died, but she suspects that it may have been a marijuana overdose, occurring while getting stoned with her adopted Russian brother.
Hell is a confusing place. Demons run rampant and are quick to devour and torture the deceased, only to have the dead reappear for more torment. It's easy for most people to land in hell. Honk your horn too many times or litter and you might not get a pass to heaven. The landscape is littered with rotten candy, mountains of toe nail clippings and rivers of hot saliva. Telemarketers work from hell, communing with the living through phone surveys.
It's hard enough being an awkward thirteen year old girl, but Madison must figure out why she is in hell and how to live in her new existence.
LIKE - I liked Palahniuk's vivid imagination in describing hell. It's disgusting and hilarious. Palahniuk's unique style of wit is on every page of the story. I grew to like Madison as our unlikely heroine and I liked her Judy Blume style of writing letters to satan to start each chapter. I'm glad that at the very end of the book ( I'm not going to spoil it), he explained why hell has so much candy. It was a cleaver little twist. I liked the transformation of Madison's character. She's a kick-ass towards the end!
DISLIKE - In all of the imaginative details, the stakes got lost. Other than the demons at the start of the story, the characters didn't have a sense of urgency or danger. The consequences were low, which made my interest wane. Along with the stakes, the general plot played second fiddle to the creative details and humor. This isn't to say that Damned wasn't a fun read, but it could have been a more compelling read. The story ended with a "to be continued" and I'm not sure if I would continue with the story.
RECOMMEND - If you're a Palahniuk fan, you're going to have to read Damned. This book would have definitely crossed my path at some point. However, if you've not read a novel by Palahniuk, don't start with this one. I enjoyed Choke or Invisible Monsters.