Book Review: A Short Stay In Hell
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A Short Stay In Hell
Hardcover l Paperback l Kindle l Audio
AUTHOR: Steven L. Peck
PUBLISHER: Strange Violin Editions
108 Pages
RELEASE DATE: March 23, 2012

Plenty of books come and go that satisfy our expectations and keep us interested throughout. Some even resonate in a significant way, sticking with us for the rest of our lives. But how many books really make you think? And not just in the basic ponderous way, but in a way that makes your brain bend and crack and splinter under the pressures of your attempts to grasp the numerous ideas presented to you within those pages. That kind of thinking is what A Short Stay In Hell is all about.

The book comes from author Steven L. Peck, an evolutionary ecologist at Brigham Young University, where he teaches bioethics and the history and philosophy of science. It’s only a little over 100 pages in length, but the amount of time and space jammed into its few pages is beyond human comprehension.

A Short Stay In Hell tells the story of Soren Johansson, a faithful Mormon who fully believes that one day after he passes away he’ll be reunited with all of his loved ones for all eternity in the afterlife. Then Soren dies, and quickly discovers that things are not at all as he expected.

That’s all you really need to know, as this is a book that’s probably best read without much knowledge of what it’s about, and one I would very much recommend going into as blindly as possible. But for those who need to know more about the story before deciding whether to check it out, please continue. If not, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.

First comes the interview with a demon—a demon who looks as you’d expect a demon to look, but who also is far more laid back than you’d ever expect him to be as he welcomes Soren and four other newcomers to Hell, and tries to explain what exactly is going on. As it turns out, the one true religion is not Christianity or Catholicism or one of the other big religions, but is in fact actually Zoroastrianism, an ancient Iranian religion and religious philosophy.

Sure they’re in Hell and that sucks, but as the demon soon tells them, they’re not to be kept in Hell for all eternity as they may have expected. Each is sent to a specific Hell fitting to who they were in life for an edification process—to improve and enlighten them intellectually, morally, and spiritually through a form of punishment. And when it’s done, they can get out.

Soren’s Hell is an interesting one indeed. Seeing as how he was quite fond of books and reading, the demon sends him to a great library. There’s other people, beds, showers, and a kiosk that will give them anything they want to eat or drink. All the things necessary to make their stay in Hell a comfortable one, with just a few rules to follow and one simple goal: find the book of your life—the one with no errors spelling or otherwise—and insert it into the slot to earn your way out of Hell. Simple, right? How wrong you would be to assume such things.

This is the story of a man named Soren’s stay in Hell, and his journey to find his book.

I’ve never read a book quite like A Short Stay In Hell. Almost every page has something fascinating and mind boggling on it, which means Peck doesn’t waste your time with filler while telling his story; he gets right to it and there’s nothing wrong with that. I often found my mouth wide open while reading without actually remembering my opening it, because it’s just that remarkable to imagine yourself in this fictional situation and think about what it would be like—both the pros (yes, there are some pros) and the cons. The unbelievable, unbearable cons.

When I say “fictional,” I mean it too. This isn’t a book to spark some kind of heated religious debate as to whether or not there’s actually a kiosk in Hell that would give you an order of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets just as you remember them if you ordered it, so let’s not even get into that. It’s not written as some kind of alternative perspective to try and woo you away from your beliefs; it’s simply a story set in a familiar place that’s presented in a wholly unfamiliar way. There’s plenty of religious themes running through it, of course, but it’s a whole lot more than that. Within these short 100 or so pages is a great adventure to end all other adventures, an underdog story, love stories, and an examination of human nature when given a clean slate and a new set of rules to live by.

Whether you believe in an afterlife or you don’t is of no importance. A Short Stay In Hell is an extremely smart and exceptionally well-written book, with an interesting and thought-provoking story, setting, and characters. This is a book made to make you ponder (and ponder you will), and you should check it out as soon as humanly possible.

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