The Devil’s Dance

László Krasznahorkai must be a commonly read and well respected author. I say this because I discovered three novels of his on my bookshelves and I hadn’t even read one of them. Curious? Well I had a copy of Satantango. It looked interesting. I added it to the XFX reading list. And now I have read it.

The other two books on my shelf  are The Melancholy of Resistence and War and War.

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Satan Is My Hero

I know you’re not looking for yet-another reference to Milton’s Paradise Lost. We all know it; we all love it; right? Well, these’s a lesson in Paradise Lost that is currently under discussion in the Sunday Book Review at the New York Times. The title of this article adequately presents the theme which we will tie back to John Milton.

Are We Too Concerned That Characters Be ‘Likable’?

Each week in Bookends, two writers take on pressing and provocative questions about the world of books. This week, Mohsin Hamid and Zoë Heller on whether it’s important that fictional characters be likable.

I invite you to read the article in the Times. True, it discusses the likability of the characters in fiction but it takes a knee-jerk turn to associate views on likability to a conflict between unsophisticated readers and stuffy academicians.

SatanBut back to Milton. Is Paradise Lost the one work that epitomizes the conflict between likable and unlikable characters? Although this would be a great time to pause and reread what is often considered the greatest poem in the English language, I will offer a simple statement about the conflict to contemplate, and then you can pull your volume of Milton off the shelf and make your own conclusion about likable characters.

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Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison.

No, it’s not fair, but what makes earth feel like Hell is our expectation that it should feel like Heaven. Earth is earth. Dead is dead. You’ll find out for yourself soon enough. It won’t help the situation for you to get all upset.

That’s a quotation from yet another questionable novel from Chuck Palahniuk, Damned. I know it’s not fair to take a quote from a character (even a dead character) and ascribe it directly to the author, so ignore the citation and just consider the sentiment. Dead is dead and then you putrefy and feed the worms.

But in Palahniuk’s novel, it seems that dead is not dead since the young heroine goes to Hell which she had always envisioned as being much like The Breakfast Club is this a common image?). In a variation, the little dead girl makes the story a little more clear:

What makes the earth feel like Hell is our expectation that it ought to feel like Heaven. Earth is earth. Hell is Hell. Now stop with the whining and caterwauling.

And even further on, Maddie again modifies her original statement:

No, it’s not fair, but what makes life feel like Hell is our expectation that it should last forever. Life is short. Dead is forever. You’ll find out for yourself soon enough. It won’t help the situation for you to get all upset.

Palahniuk apparently loves these kind of tropes, pithy little pronouncements each with a slight rhetorical twist. I can see how they might begin to irk the reader but they work well in this novel. I cannot say that Damned is a really good novel but I will say that Damned is a really good entertainment. Here Palahniuk’s skewed vision of a reality which accepts elements of fiction a if they were real (and all tied up in a real fictional work).

The story, quickly, is of a privileged daughter of Hollywood who ends up in Hell and, although the popcorn balls are all stale and demons periodically suck the flesh from your bones, it’s not half bad and considering the presence of so many well-known celebrities and the often whimsical violations that earned them an eternity of damnation, it might be preferable to Heaven … which Maddie concludes must be exceedingly boring.

I haven’t had good luck with the last few Palahniuk novels but this one is certainly better than watching television.