A Short Stay in Hell is, alas, mis-titled.
Our author finds himself in a deliciously cruel/comfortable Zoroastrian hell in which he must find the book of his life in order to escape. Trouble is, hell contains every book that could ever be written. It’s not an infinite number of books, but the size boggles his (and your) mind. Hell could last three days or three trillion years. Count on the latter.
Peck’s Mormon biography is evident here, from the relief that he is not in Baptist hell, to the guilt he feels after drinking coffee from hell’s Star Trekkian vending machines. Even hell is strangely (Utah Valley) Mormon — a place for beautiful white people with perfect teeth.
The central conceit is brilliant and there’s a real sense of pathos for our author’s desperate attempts to find and maintain human connections in an ageless place. I read it in one setting, desperate to find out if hell has an End. Peck has a real flair for capturing the yearnings of the human spirit, hell-bound or no.
Full marks too for the creation of the book’s villain — the beautifully evil Dire-Dan and his most excellent method of torture: kill — wait for resurrection — kill again. Repeat for a century.