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 his life.
In this haunting existential novella, author, philosopher, and ecologist Steven L. Peck explores a subversive vision of eternity, taking the reader on a journey through the afterlife of a world where everything everyone believed in turns out to be wrong.
©2012 Strange Violin Editions (P)2012 Strange Violin Editions
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
"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 about Levi Peterson, but have yet to read him. There is also Walter Kirn, but I'm certain he wouldn't want his stint as a Mormon to throw him into consideration for Monarch of Mormon Lit (and to be fair, I doubt Steven Peck or Brady Udall would either). There is Brian Evenson who left BYU after the administration basically choked on his first book of stories (Altmann's Tongue: Stories and a Novella).
After this small group the ground seems to really dry up. I wasn't exactly desperate to find a Mormon author who wrote well. I kinda just stopped caring. It wasn't like it was some endless quest that had meaning for me. It had none. It seemed absurd to try. My people seemed largely unable to deal with the complexity, absurdity, despair, nuance, and self-reflection necessary (I thought) to write really, REALLY good fiction. So, it was in this frame of mind that I made a dark comment about the state of Mormon letters to a friend named Kevin. The next time we met, he tossed this book at me.
I was skeptical. I shelved it among the 2,000+ other books I owned, but had yet to read. I read probably 300 books between the time Kevin gave this book to me and the time I decided I was ready to read it. I'm not sure why I waited so long. The book isn't long. Hell. It is barely a novella. I think it weighs in at 104 pages. If it was a fish, you might be tempted to throw it back. It was ironic that I had more reluctance to read this novel than I had to read Proust's entire In Search of Lost Time. But today, I found it, opened it, and started reading. In about two hours I was done and I was changed. I was wrong. It was like discovering a whole room full of LDS monkeys had written me 1,000 notes and I just read one that said: "Oh, ye of little wraith."
Anyway, enough preamble. Why did I enjoy this short book about a short stay in Hell?
1. Peck is an evolutionary ecologist with a background in biomathematics and entomology. So, it seems two (Peck, Evenson) of my three (Peck, Evenson, Udall) contenders for best living writers of Mormon Literature* are either scientists (Peck) or sons of scientists (Evenson's father William E Evenson is an emeritus professor of physics at BYU and is responsible, along with Duane E. Jeffery, of producing Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements). Achtung Mormon mothers. If you really want your little kid to grow up to write the Great American Mormon Novel, either marry a Physics professor, send your kid to school to study statistics and evolution, or surround her with a billion theoretical monkeys.
2. I love Peck's fluency with both the history of Borges, "The Total Library", "The Library of Babel", and the whole idea of large numbers, infinite monkey theorem, etc. He appears to by a polymath with an emphasis on math.
3. For me, what sets Peck apart with this novel, is his ability to turn the complexity and absurdity of large numbers into a believable Hell and nuance the Hell out of it. In many ways 'A Short Stay in Hell' is one of the most economical horror stories since H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. From time to time, this book seemed to also echo Edgar Allen Poe and Dan Simmons.
And, least you think I've gone completely out of my mind, 'A Short Stay in Hell' isn't perfect. It could have been longer. Peck also isn't a perfect prose stylist. He isn't writing at the level of Julian Barnes, Vladimir Nabokov, or Virginia Woolf. But that is OK. I'm willing to grade the prose of his novella on a bit of a curve since I NEVER thought I would personally live to find and enjoy a book written by a Mormon. My search is over and I so I now quietly apologize to the wise Lord Ahura Mazda for any offense and await my death and judgement.
* I am purposefully not including Terry Tempest Williams in my list of Mormon writers of literature NOT because I'm a misogynist and don't think she writes valuable stuff, but because I think she is more of a memoirist and poet.
ELLE aka PlantCrone of the Great Pacific Northwest. I enjoy almost every genre-S/F, Action, Biographies and Histories & Romance
as an atheist who was raised Mormon I found this to be a fascinating book-almost impossible to imagine it as a reality.
Be the listener devoutly religious, atheist or agnostic, this book should arouse some thoughts about personal belief systems.
I'll be listening to it again and again, I'm sure.
Dr. Nils Rasmussen
I was BEYOND blown away by this book. It has completely raised the bar on my expectations of what a book can be.
And all of this from an author which I had never even heard of.
From beginning to end, this story had me completely hooked.
Had I not been FORCED to take a few breaks, I am positive that I would have listened the entire 3 hours without stopping. The storyline is SO compelling and captivating that I don't believe I will EVER forget this book.
Easily my new favorite novel.
10.00 / 10.00
Short listen and thought provoking. Could be depressing to some listeners.
Narrated well and a clever alternative take on the concept of hell.
I won't bother with providing a synopsis of the story; if you're interested, there are several here among the reviews. I will concur with the person who stated that you don't need to be of any particular faith, or really of any faith at all, to enjoy this book. And for those like me, who strongly adhere to a particular faith, you are not likely to find this doctrinal, but you might find it worth contemplating. I enjoyed this sufficiently to immediately look for other books by this author. I do hope he writes more.
Say something about yourself!
Surprising, exasperating novella.
I would compare this to Twilight Zone or Night Gallery. A book does not come to mind this moment.
At first I was ready to set this one aside, then I got hooked. This is a surreal view of Hell. I have always thought that, if there is a Hell, it's probably tailored to the individual.
Maybe, to catch some more of the references. The story does not leave a lot of room for interpretation.
The mathematician that calculates the true vastness of hell. I could picture a broken, ashen man with bulbous bloodshot eyes sitting hunched over on his bed. His prediction of a finite hell becomes a reality and his countenance and any shred of hope crushed.
I liked this book. It is one view of what Hell could be like, and I have to warn you, the more you think about A Short Stay in Hell, the more you realize what a total drag it would be to be there, and the thought is a little depressing. It is so well written, though, and the characters come through so well, that you may not be able to get it out of your head for a while. I particularly liked the demon at the start of the book, and the way the narrator caught the character.
Too little affect in his narrative, too little distinction among characters in his dialogue. His diction was quite muddy.
Yes; yes indeed.
There's very little in the way of character development, but it's so evocative of a feeling of timelessness and the infinite that I'm fascinated. I can't wait to see where the story is going. This is what reading fantastical literature is supposed to do for you.
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