Monday, July 30, 2012

A SHORT STAY IN HELL (Strange Violin), by Steven L. Peck

When I read the jacket blurb on this book, I must admit to no little excitement on my part. 
As a faithful Mormon, Soren Johansson has always believed he’ll be reunited with his loved ones 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.”

A great idea, right?

The answer is a resounding yes—it is a great idea. Unfortunately, it was an idea that, to me, really didn’t go anywhere after the initial “great idea” glow subsided.

In Peck’s novella, we discover that the only true religion (which, of course, nobody realized), is Zoroastrianism, and anyone not following this faith is given an express pass to Hell. The premise is fine, but it might have been nice if the author had given the reader more of a clue about what Zoroastrianism was about. We learn more about Mormonism than the “one true religion.” 
Once our hero finds himself in Hell’s library, he realizes that finding his life story isn’t going to be easy, or particularly pleasant. To those of us who are readers, spending hundreds of years in a library sounds more like Heaven than Hell; but most of the books in this library don’t make any sense. They are filled with gibberish, with only the occasional book containing even one readable phrase. Finding the book containing his life’s story is pretty much out of the question, and that is where the Hell comes in. The dimensions of the library are beyond imagining, and Peck does a good job conveying the vastness of the place.

The major problem with this novella is that it is monotonous—but existential philosophy, when applied to a work of fiction, usually is unless it is handled deftly. I realize that the author is attempting to convey the monotony as one of Hell’s many tortures, but making the reader suffer it is not the best way to do that and keep one’s readership. 
Additionally, the protagonist, Soren, does not change or grow, which makes the story somewhat pointless. There is little that is remotely interesting about him—certainly not enough for this reader to be pulling for him in his quest. Creating characters that bore us to the point where we care little about what happens to them is tantamount to opening up a femoral artery where exemplary fiction writing is concerned.

I wish I had more good things to say about A SHORT STAY IN HELL. I opened this book really wanting to like it and came away disappointed.

Carson Buckingham is a multi-published dark fiction author. She also writes a humor blog at: and has an editing service at: She can be reached at:

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