Marvin's Reviews > A Short Stay in Hell

A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck
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Mar 17, 12

Read from March 15 to 17, 2012

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 attain a high level of literary quality." I wondered if this book was possibly a religious tract of some sort beyond the somewhat bleak and horrific plot description.

It is not. While it has strong philosophical tones, it is quite existential and offers more questions than answers. And they are questions that are relevant to anyone regardless of their religious or philosophical background. The Hell of Peck's novella is based on a short story by Jorge Luis Borges about a library containing an allegedly infinite amount of books. The new arrivals are informed that the true religion is Zoroastrianism. "Zoor-what-ism?" acclaims one shocked Christian. The main character is sentenced to a vast library with the goal to seek out the book that contains the story of his life.

But eventually even this seemingly final exile into hell is questioned. Peck in his accessible and delightful style seems to have written a story about uncertainty and our attempts to make that uncertainty have meaning. Despite the heavy sounding plot, A Short Stay in Hell is an easy and engrossing read but it also full of ideas that stick with you long after the last page. At the beginning of our protagonist's trip into hell, he is given a list of rules. The last rule in not commented on much in the book but it stayed with me...
Lastly, you are here to learn something.Don't try to figure what it is. That can be frustrating and unproductive.

It appears that Peck's hell isn't all that different from life.

Four and a half stars.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Samantha Penrose I was reading through other reviews wondering when someone would point out the similarities between this hell, and life as we know it. I, too, picked up on this on pages 18 & 19, in the rules of hell.

Also, so far, I haven't seen any commentary on the fact that everyone was middle-aged, white, and spoke English. That was the only thing that bothered me about the book. What about those that died before reaching 25 (the presumed age of everyone)? And why Anglo-American, particularly since Zoroastrianism, the "one true religion" is Persian...

I still loved the book.
This is one that I'll be adding to my personal collection!


message 2: by Marvin (last edited Jul 15, 2012 06:51AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marvin I don't have the book with me tight now, but I'm fairly sure that our protagonist alluded to the age and racial dilemma. Maybe not.

As for Zoroastrianism: I think the author picked that religion specifically for the irony; that the one true religion would be one that most Anglo-Americans never heard of, let alone practice.

BTW, I remember reading a while back that the original Zoroastrian hell isn't all the different than the Christian hell except it was temporary and cold rather than hot.


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