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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Book review: A Short Stay in Hell by Simon Peck


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Steven L. Peck is an evolutionary biologist, poet, and novelist. His literary work is influential in Mormon literature circles. He is a professor of biology at Brigham Young University. He grew up in Moab, Utah and lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Publisher: Strange Violin Editions (March 20, 2012) Page Count: 108 Formats: ebook, paperback, audiobook




I'm a big fan of novellas and short books, and I'm always eager to try new ones. Short Stay in Hell caught my attention with its cool title and even cooler cover. In 120 pages, it introduces one of the most terrifying visions of Hell. Not a bloody one, but an existentially terrifying one. The crushing reality of this particular vision of hell will stay with me for a long, LONG time.

Soren Johansson, a devout Mormon, and faithful husband dies. Instead of being reunited with his family in the afterlife, he finds himself in Hell. Except not his version of hell. It turns out he's picked the wrong religion, and the only true one was Zoroastrianism. Because he liked to read, the demon sends him to a fascinating (and terrifying) version of hell based on Borges' Library of Babel. 

The library contains an indefinite number of books, floors, and spaces. One can escape from it by finding a book that describes their life. In the library, there's a set of rules and codes. You can die/kill yourself, but you wake up the next day. There's no escape into sweet oblivion. You can spend billions of years desperately searching for your book. Only which version of your life shall it describe? Narrated by you or by the ant you accidentally squashed? By your close ones or people who hated you? The number of possibilities is finite BUT infinitely HUGE.

Since the library contains all possible books, including the ones written in gibberish, the chances of finding the right one are infinitely small. Except with the infinite amount of time, everyone will eventually find it. Sadly, it can take close to eternity to do so. Billions of years. Or longer. An eternity of monotony, books, the same faces.

A Short Stay in Hell offers a chilling vision of existential horror; it explores concepts of time, relationships, and meaning in a place where all these things are arbitrary. Soren has to deal with an afterlife that is not as he imagined. He challenges his beliefs and ideas about religion, love, and family. Peck plays with equations and mathematics to reveal the real dimension of the library and the result is horrifying. 

I had a great time reading A Short Stay in Hell and I'm sure it's one of the books that will stay with me for a long time.

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