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
Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
While this book doesn’t really line up with my own spiritual beliefs, it does present a very interesting version of hell beyond the stereotyped Dante’s Inferno that much of the western Christian cultures have bought into. The first impression of a strange but not especially menacing existence (that is supposed to be only temporary anyway) initially inspires a sense of tentative relief. Then as the magnitude of the assigned task (finding a specific book among billions of books in a library of infinite dimensions) becomes increasingly evident, the reality of hell begins to assert itself. What temporary can mean in relation to eternity is suddenly daunting. Hopelessness, lack of a true faith to believe in, the absence of behavioral boundaries or consequences, and the lack of diversity among the residents may be a reflection of the type of lives many have lived on earth when our naïve thoughts of our own immortality fool us into careless lives. Do we create our own hells, underestimating the effect on our souls of living for the comfortable and the familiar instead of embracing more diverse possibilities of experience and acquaintance?
Beginning with a fairly light tone with humorous episodes, the mood subtly darkens as the story-teller relates his own increasing need to find an escape. Eventually he, and we with him, realize the full impact of his situation. Regardless of your belief or lack of belief in a hellish after-life, this book will challenge your viewpoints, and hopefully challenge your earthly behavior in the reflected image of what this literary hell looks like. Now I wonder what Peck's image of heaven looks like. I'll bet that's a mind bender too.
It doesn't take long to listen to the story (less than 3 hours) but the author packs a lot into it.
The premise is essentially: a nice guy, irregardless of how he lived on earth, ends up in hell, which actually does not seem so bad at the beginning. The demon in the first scene is more like an affable business manager than genuinely scary; people get idealized bodies once they're admitted to hell; and they can order whatever food they want from the food kiosks. Even though the task set to each person is tedious (find a single book in a mind-shatteringly huge library) there are optimistic/encouraging rules that give everybody in hell hope that they will eventually get out. Over time, the story slowly dismantles, piece by piece, this initial impression by undermining anything that might lead the main character to believe that hell is actually not that bad, while at the same time progressively building up, piece by piece, his growing realization of how horrific and tragic his circumstances actually are. It's a really impressive about-face. A great story, funny and tragic and hopeful and horrific all at once.
I have not read the print version (yet).
There is really no other book to compare it to; that said, this novella is an excellent examination of human morality, character, religious belief systems, etc. Excellent!
Very well done!
The demon at the beginning of the story.
Read or listen to this story, it will stay with you for a long time.
Steven L. Peck turns a very abstract concept into an emotionally understandable and terrifying reality. Imagine a library with more books than there are electrons in the known universe; now imagine that you had to find one book among them. It's very hard to imagine this, but Steven tells the story with great skill and brings you through the joy, despair, hope, and hopelessness of the situation. Spiritual, philosophical, but also very down-to-earth, A Short Stay in Hell made me feel so many things that I will never forget it (when I finished it I had to go into the house and hug my wife). If you like thinking about "big questions" like how large the universe is and what immortality might be like, this book may teach you a lot of things.
Sergei Burbank read the book in a simple, honest tone, which suited the narrator very well. It felt like I was sitting with the main character, listening to him tell me his story.
One day, this will all be a distant memory.
For me, the narrator neither added to nor subtracted from the content of this story. When Soren Johansson, a Mormon, dies of brain cancer in his early 40's, he is stunned to find himself in hell. This is no hell that he or anyone else has ever fathomed. The reason he and the other people were cast in this particular hell is because they did not believe in Zoroastrianism. Who would have thought that's why you would end up in hell? But don't worry, this hell is not forever. Your ticket to getting out is to simply go through the vast library that awaits you and find the book about your life without any errors in it. So begins Soren's new "life" in hell. It may take you awhile to really understand the dimensions in this hell and when you do, you will not only wonder at its possibility but you will also find more value in time and life in general. This story made my head spin a bit but mostly it left me with a strange, unsettling kind of uncertainty about what could be.
Someone said that when reading a book, the journey is more important than the destination. This journey was exceedingly intriguing-but far too short. this book has stuck in my head more than most because of the enormity of the task involved and the irony that "hell is not eternal". Absolutely great short listen.
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.
Highly recommend this book. Interesting enough that I brought the premise up in conversation a bunch of times and it always sparked interest. The story is well read. There is a good amount of humour in it however, it also has a serious darkness throughout. It is the type of book that I wish I could find more of.
Perhaps both narrator and quality of recording are coloring my view of this book. Perhaps I haven't read the original Borges. But this story was like a leaky balloon that just fizzled into flaccid rubber pile for me. Had such promise. What were they there to learn? Why were they all white? I don't need everything resolved, but aside for some moments I found the story empty overall. And not in any meaningful or provocative way that leaves a gaping hole that needs tending, ministering, or to be transformed. Maybe that's hell.
For me, the performance is a critical part of an audiobook. I found this one lifeless and wondered sometimes whether the reader read or rehearsed the text beforehand the way some sentences were delivered. Worse were the numerous mid-sentence dubs with clips so unmistakably different in sound quality they shot me right out of the story. It sounded like every 10 minutes they had to quit and use a different sound booth. At one point I thought I even heard the faint sound of people in the background. Lame.
You’re in hell and finding out that everything you were taught on faith is a lie. Are you going to say to the devil “but it’s not fair!!!!!”? I’ve often imagined that one and always it makes me laugh a that’s-not-funny laugh. So I found the opening scene not just memorable but funny and smart. And then it gets even better. Over and over in this short book I shook my head with a silent OMG. This short stay in hell kept me thinking about it long after I finished listening. Listen to it uninterrupted.
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