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A Short Stay in Hell

4.16  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,184 Ratings  ·  313 Reviews
An ordinary family man, geologist, and Mormon, Soren Johansson has always believed he’ll be reunited with his loved ones after death in an eternal hereafter. Then, he dies. Soren wakes to find himself cast by a God he has never heard of into a Hell whose dimensions he can barely grasp: a vast library he can only escape from by finding the book that contains the story of hi ...more
Paperback, 104 pages
Published March 23rd 2012 by Strange Violin Editions (first published January 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Jul 22, 2015 karen rated it really liked it

i wasn't sure i was going to like this one. the concept is ripped from a borges story about a library containing an infinite number of books; every permutation of every possible arrangement of letters; shelves and shelves of endless volumes, many of which are pure gibberish.

and in this book, this is one of many possible hells.

it seems zoroastrianism was the one true religion. oops. sorry all you suckers and mormons and buddhists - you are all going to hell. but hell is not forever, all you need
Dan Schwent
Mar 27, 2012 Dan Schwent rated it really liked it
Mormon Soren Johansson dies and wakes up in the afterlife, only to find that Zoroastrianism was the one true faith. He's then banished to a hell suitable for his rehabilitation needs: a library of near infinite size, containing every possible book ever written, one of which is his life story. Can Soren find that elusive book?

I got this book for free from the publisher, and normally that would make it feel like a homework assignment from a crabby teacher once the "free book" excitement wore off.
Oct 14, 2012 Kris rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kris by: Jacob
Shelves: fiction, fantasy
Peck uses the Borges story "The Library of Babel" as inspiration for his own take on a version of Hell in this thought-provoking novella.

As the story opens, Soren Johansson finds himself dressed in a robe, sitting on a metal folding chair with a view of men and women who are screaming while swimming in a lake of fire. He soon learns from Xandern, the 8-foot tall demon who welcomes him, that he has died, that Zoroastrianism is the one true religion, and that he is being sent to a specific versio
Aug 22, 2015 Forrest rated it it was amazing
Angst is not a mere intellectual exercise. Existentialism is not just a philosophical movement. Steven L. Peck's A Short Stay in Hell drives this into the heart of the reader like no other existentialist work.

I've been eyeball-deep in readings on existentialism lately (research for a novel and for my own despair edification), including William Barrett's outstanding Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy and Sartre's play No Exit, among others. But while I've enjoyed Barrett's study,
Jun 21, 2016 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2016
"Finite does not mean much if you can't tell any practical difference between it and infinite."
- Steven L. Peck, A Short Stay in Hell


I have bemoaned for years the sad state of Mormon letters. Do I need to comment here that I don't really consider Ender's Game or Twilight to be literature? There have been a couple close calls. I personally really liked Brady Udall's books (The Lonely Polygamist, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, and Letting Loose the Hounds: Stories) and I've heard good things abou
Mar 15, 2012 Jacob rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: You!
Shelves: i-own, short-fiction, 2012
March 2012

Hell is a vast, immeasurable, nearly infinite library--and you can only check out one book.

Bad news for most of the human race: there is only one true religion, and it's Zoroastrianism. The good news: Ahura Mazda is a merciful god, and nonbelievers are not condemned to hell for all eternity. But they will be there for a very, very long time. For faithful Mormon Soren Johanssen, hell manifests as a library of nearly infinite proportions--a library, inspired by the story "The Library of
Wayne Barrett

Question: If you knew for a fact that not only was there a Hell but that there was a vast array of different types of Hell, how would you feel if you knew the Hell selected for you was a library?

If you are reading this review then it's obvious you are also a book lover so you are probably thinking the answer is a no-brainer.

All righty then! You need to read this novella and then tell me what you think after that.

Of course I didn't get into detail as to how a library could possibly be bad, let
Mar 17, 2012 Marvin rated it really liked it
When I first read the description of this brief book I was fascinated by the premise but also had some questions. Why would the description emphasize that the protagonist is a "faithful Mormon". The letter from Strange Violin Editions that came with this advance copy only piqued my curiosity with its stated mission being to release writings by "Mormons, former Mormons, and people interested in Mormonism who seek thought-provoking, intelligently written, Mormonism-related books that strive to att ...more
Feb 01, 2016 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mormons, Jorge Luis Borges fans, souls damned to libraries
So, you die and wind up in hell, greeted by a demon who says "Yeah, that religion you chose? Sorry, wrong one!"

This was a very odd little short novel, about a Mormon who dies and finds out that in fact, there is one true religion, and it isn't Mormonism. But don't worry - this is neither an anti-Mormon nor an evangelical work. The fact that the main character is a Mormon is just coincidence - he is joined in hell by many other people who are equally surprised at having checked the wrong box.

Mar 02, 2013 Martha rated it it was amazing
What an eye-opener this book is. Today, I appreciate the birds singing, the cockroaches crawling, the flies flying more than ever; I just finished “A Short Stay in Hell”.

This was a concept of hell that I’ve never thought about before and that’s what makes this book so good. It makes you think about religion in a whole different light.

Back a few months ago I read a review of this and was excited to try it. I had to order it at Barnes & Noble, it wasn't on the shelf. I am so glad I did. Steve
Sep 03, 2012 Jami rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a rather disturbing, thought-provoking novella. Read it in a single sitting. One of the most horrific hells I've ever pondered. I'm sure it will be in my brain until the day I die. Some parts reminded me of Peter Beagle's A Fine and Private Place, others of Orson Scott Card's short story "A Thousand Deaths." A good read, but don't expect a happy ending. It's about hell after all.

Available very inexpensively as a Kindle book.

Update: It's been nearly a year since I read this and I still fi
Libbie Hawker (L.M. Ironside)
An imaginative, weird, and often funny look at what happens when one man dies and finds out the true religion was Zoroastrianism, and he's bound for a rehabilitative Hell. Don't worry; he only has to stay for a little while, until he's been brought around. Unfortunately God and his/her demons reckon time differently from the way humans do, and his short stay in Hell stretches for a virtual eternity while he searches for the one book containing the story of his life among more books than there ar ...more
Mar 21, 2012 Valentina rated it really liked it
This is a book that definitely stays with you after you finish reading it. I closed it last night and this morning it was still haunting me, poking me in the side for me to think about it just a bit more.
It’s not an easy one to classify. It’s fiction, sure, but there’s a bit of satire, a bit of philosophy, a bit of horror, a bit of everything, really. The writing is sparse and careful, setting the mood as well as the descriptions do. For me, it was a pretty claustrophobic read. Since the book ta
Kyle Muntz
Feb 06, 2016 Kyle Muntz rated it really liked it
This is an interesting book. It's sort of like Borges fanfiction, except the Library of Babel is slightly modified into an afterlife (in a universe where Zaroastrianism is the true religion, and there seem to be multiple hells). I feel like Peck is mostly a mediocre writer who stumbled onto a good idea, but this book is pretty fun to read, despite painfully bland characterization and a sort of clumsiness from scene to scene.

By making the library an afterlife I feel like Peck sort of misses part
Gloria Mundi
Imagine, you have just died. I know, kinda crappy, right? But! At least all your earthly suffering is over. Whatever caused your death is no longer troubling you and you are restored to the prime of your youth and deposited into a vast, almost infinite library filled with every book that could ever be written and where you do not age, you have perfect memory and are able to recall every word you have ever read and every event that has ever happened to you, your every injury and even death are he ...more
Leah Polcar
This review refers to the audiobook.

I found A Short Stay in Hell a remarkable novella. The premise is relatively simple: when you die, unless you are a Zoroastrian, you will find yourself on a cheap folding chair facing a demon who decides your not-quite-eternal fate. Our hero ends up assigned to a hell that instantiates Jorge Luis Borges' Library of Babel where he must search for the book(s) that perfectly describes every second of his life. Peck's library is even worse than Borges since I am p
Jason Pettus
Dec 18, 2012 Jason Pettus rated it it was ok
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this review, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Earlier this year I had the chance to review Therese Doucet's delightful if not flawed lapsed-Mormon memoir A Lost Argument, which I thoroughly enjoyed despite its problems; so I was excited to learn that Doucet had actually started a new small press based on her experiences, and devoted to putting out ot
Sep 12, 2014 Tania rated it really liked it
It seems I love any story that has a library as the setting, even if the library is hell. Very well written and thought-provoking, I especially liked the author's ideas on how homogeneity and monotony would affect us. I am not normally a fan of novella's but this is well worth the read.
Paul Genesse
May 10, 2012 Paul Genesse rated it it was amazing
Most Fascinating Trip to Hell . . . Ever

I’ve been to Hell a few times, but this was my most fascinating trip ever. Sure, my trips were through the eyes of characters in books that went there, but I have felt like I was in Hell on numerous occasions. Don’t even think about comparing the Hell of junior high, or any experience anyone on Earth has ever had to Steven L. Peck’s novella, A Short Stay in Hell. This is like no other journey you or I have ever had. Why? Because our existence here on Earth
Mar 10, 2012 Drew rated it really liked it
A terrifically thought-provoking novella about a Hell based off Borges' "Library of Babel". It's a philosophical examination of infinity and eternity, of the human capacity to adapt, and of religion and tolerance. Smart, funny, and surprisingly good at shrinking mind-boggling concepts into a comprehensible framework. Still, a library that goes on for lightyears in every direction that's mostly full of gibberish... a truly terrifying thought if ever there was one.

Definitely worth your time - I s
Jeff Raymond
It's books like this that make me absolutely love Goodreads. I received this as an advance copy after finding the book's premise to be really fascinating. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did, and there's no way I would have ever even known the book existed without Goodreads, so yeah.

The premise is very simple - Hell is different for different people, there's only one true religion (and you probably don't subscribe to it), and the hero of our story, Soren, is in Hell and has been sent to
Lisa Butterworth
Mar 20, 2012 Lisa Butterworth rated it it was amazing
This is a fast read, but count on it dwelling in your mind for a while as you can't help but contemplate what eternity really means, and your brain tries to comprehend things so large and long that it literally boggles. Plus a great story, sympathetic character development, and fascinating hi-jinks ensue.
Nathan Shumate
Feb 13, 2012 Nathan Shumate rated it it was amazing
This eschatological novella gives an unblinking look at what is often the unspoken worst part of the traditional idea of damnation: its duration. Highly recommended.
Jul 13, 2012 Anne rated it really liked it
To say this was a haunting read would be a gross understatement. It gave me several nights of tossing and turning as I tried to wrap my head around his vision of eternity that includes eons in an enormously vast library full of unreadable books. The monotony, the boredom, the impossibility of the quest to find one's life story shelved somewhere in the vast stacks, combined to create a real horror story.

It also made me ponder the questions raised in the book, "what would it be like to love the s
Isaac Bourgeois
Feb 13, 2013 Isaac Bourgeois rated it it was amazing
Highly recommend. Read it in a day. Fascinating approach to the concept. I should write more but it's late. I'll just include a quote here to whet your appetite: “There is a despair that goes deeper than existence; it runs to the marrow of consciousness, to the seat of the soul. Could I keep living like this forever? How could I continue existing in this Hell? And yet there was no choice. Existence goes on and on here. Finite does not mean much if you can’t tell any practical difference between ...more
Sonja Arlow
Nov 29, 2014 Sonja Arlow rated it really liked it
3 stars or 4 stars I am on the fence

What a disturbingly unusual, surprisingly creepy and thought provoking novella. In a broad sense it touches on a range of religious beliefs, existentialism and philosophy and there is even some humor to be found in places.

What if you, a good Catholic/Christian/Muslim/Jewish believer (pick your choice) dies and ends up in hell anyway? You really believed that your religion was the right one, right? And this is highly unfair, right? And to make maters worse, He
Apr 04, 2012 Tiffany rated it really liked it
A Short Stay in Hell is wonderful! It tells the story of a devout Mormon man, Soren, who dies and ends up in Hell. However, Hell is nothing like he imagined. It is not fire and brimstone and eternal suffering. There are many different Hells but the one chosen for him is based of the Borges short story, Library of Babel. The library consists of every book that has ever been written and every book that ever could be written (i.e. there's a book of all a's, a book of all b's, a book of all question ...more
Apr 18, 2016 Hugh rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-all-time
In terms of the density of existential crises per page, this one takes the cake. This book starts with a not-so-bleak look at an eternity in Hell and slowly but surely makes the classic hellfire and damnation look like a freakin walk in the park. 10/10 for putting the fear of God into me and the nightmares that followed.
Soren Narnia
Feb 18, 2012 Soren Narnia rated it really liked it
A highly imaginative tale of one man's journey through a darkly funny but savage vision of hell. The book's modest length belies the richness of its many ideas and its wealth of shifting situations, and the narrator's tone--light at first, but then possessed by an ever more grim undercurrent--keeps the story quite engaging. A great book to share with someone so you can have a truly engaging discussion about what you've just read!
Jack Waters
Jan 12, 2013 Jack Waters rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2012
Very short read that I highly recommend, especially if you have read Borges' short story "The Library of Babel." It accounts a man's demise, and his stay in hell, which is a seemingly endless library of every book that can be possibly written. He can escape Hell if he finds the book containing the story of his life.
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I Did The Math To See How Long He's Been In Hell and How Long He Has To Go. 15 40 May 25, 2015 07:26PM  
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“It seemed funny that one day I would go to bed in her arms and the next not feel anything, like a switch had gone off. But no, that wasn’t honest either. This had been building for a long time. Our silences were getting longer. Our arguments more frequent. How do you stay with someone when there are no dreams to build? No purpose to accomplish? No meaning? No meaning —that was the monster that drove us away from one another in the end. Always.” 46 likes
“The days passed in a dream. I pictured our reunion again and again, played it out in my mind over and over until I’d almost worn a groove in my thoughts, so deep that it seemed the only thing I could think of was our reunion. Anticipation is a gift. Perhaps there is none greater. Anticipation is born of hope. Indeed it is hope’s finest expression. In hope’s loss, however, is the greatest despair.” 41 likes
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