Still best known for his wildly influential first novel, Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk has published a new book, Doomed, which recounts the continuing adventures of Maddy Spencer, the 13 year-old dead girl that readers first met when she was condemned to hell in the 2011 novel, Damned. He takes the time to talk to us about sequels, punk rock and The Parent Trap.
“My aesthetic is very punk aesthetic,” Chuck Palahniuk notes, quite accurately. “The story starts really strong and it runs for a short length of time and then it stops. Years ago I heard Billy Idol talk about how all punk songs started really vigorously, they went for two-and-a-half-minutes and they ended suddenly. And so, by doing a sequel, I had to kind of create a back-story that I typically would not have for a character. That was new to me.”
The sequel is Doomed, which sees Palahniuk’s latest wry and damaged heroine, the dead 13 year-old Maddie Spencer, haunting her celebrity parents following her escape from hell in the first novel in the sequence. The second of a planned trilogy, Doomed is written as a series of blog posts by the poor little rich ghost.
It’s Palahniuk’s first sequel, although it won’t be his last – currently he’s working on a follow-up to Fight Club, which will be published in comic book form. He says he enjoyed the experience. “It’s reassuring because you don’t have to invent these characters from scratch. You’re familiar with them. You know what makes them run, but you do have to come up with new dynamics so it’s not just a reiteration of what you’ve already done. You have develop an extra aspect of character to them, and so that part is tough.”
Both books deal with a very Catholic notion of the afterlife – Dante’s Inferno is an acknowledged influence – but when pressed, Palahniuk explains that some of his key inspirations were obscure medieval Gnostic heresies that fly in the face of accepted Catholic doctrine – that and Disney movies of the ‘70s.
“I’ll never be able to escape, subconsciously, being Catholic and dealing with Catholic imagery,” he reflects. “That’s gonna be with me on a genetic level for the rest of my life.
“But there was a religious movement, I think in the 15th century, where the theologians thought that if mankind was the schism that separated Lucifer and God, then maybe mankind can bring God and Satan back together. If mankind can kind of match-make and fix that relationship, then it would resolve all conflict in all creation. And so theologians really explored the idea of what it would take to fool God and Satan into loving each other again.
“That resonated with me because, as a child of the ‘70s and a child of divorce in the ‘70s, we were so in love with that Hayley Mills movie, The Parent Trap, which was remade with Lindsay Lohan, where siblings try to fool their parents into falling in love again, and so that idea is so appealing that the ultimate goal of the three books is bring Satan and God back into the relationship.”
Doomed is out now through Doubleday.