I heard about A Short Stay in Hell, by Steven L. Peck, a few years ago from one of my friends while at a convention. The idea sounded interesting, but I kept forgetting to pick up a copy of the novella. I now have my copy (and signed, too…thanks, Steven!)
The protagonist, Soren Johansson, is a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or “Mormons”) when he dies, and believes that he will be reunited with his family and live with them forever after he dies, provided he remains faithful. To his surprise, he finds himself in a Zoroastrian Hell instead, doomed to spend eternity looking through an infinite number of books for the one which is about his life. Should he find it, he will be able to leave Hell.
Peck presents an interesting conundrum in A Short Stay in Hell: How do you deal with an afterlife that is not as you imagined? Through various characters with various backgrounds, the author addresses this question. Some go with the flow and accept what happens, others are rendered incapable of doing anything, and still others form violent gangs and and make the afterlife a hell for everyone they meet.
I found it interesting how Johansson progressed from his initial disbelief to basically accepting things for what they were. He made friends and enemies on his journey through the great library, and even went through loss again—multiple times. He was an interesting character throughout the story.
The concept of an endless library was interesting, too. I can only imagine how frustrating it would be to find myself in a place like that, but that helped create a realness to A Short Stay in Hell and to the experiences of the characters there. I love libraries, but it would drive me crazy to be in a library like that.
Despite being a novella—and therefore fairly short—there were parts where I felt the narrative lost focus a little, or jumped too much in time. Despite those, I really enjoyed my time in the library from Hell (or, I guess, the library in Hell). I recommend picking up this little gem and pondering on it for a while. Ken Jennings loved it, and he’s really smart! Be smart, too, and read A Short Stay in Hell! It’s a fun, quick read.
Release Date: March 23, 2012 (USA)
ISBNs: 098374842X (9780983748427)
Publisher: Strange Violin Editions
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (brief mentions)
Sexuality: 1 (brief mentions of sex)
Violence: 2 (brutal violence, repeated death, some somewhat graphic descriptions)