Review: A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck

A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck 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.


  1. Sounds interesting, Ronan. Where can we get a copy of this book? I can’t find it on the Amazon or Borders web site.

  2. Click on the link at the top of the post.

  3. Oh I see. We can download it for $2.50? Score!!!

  4. It really is a fantastic read. This book has stuck in my head in surprising and interesting ways. I loved it.

  5. Questions for Steve, or Tracy, or other readers:

    1. Why is he in hell, or does everyone go there?
    2. Why *this* hell? (Obviously there are others.)
    3. Why only white people?
    4. Is there a sequel in the works?

  6. This book is great. (I have read it several times). One of my all time favorite books. For me, I think the reason for the book is to show how monotonous this hell is, and how truly long Eternity is. The book was chilling in the way eternity was described. And this could only have been done in a hellish setting. A long, boring similar hell where nothing is different except for the pages in the seemingly endless books.

    I would have to disagree with the idea of the book being miss-titled. I think it is titles ‘A Short Stay in Hell’ because it hints at how long eternity is. To us living it seems like, well… forever, but to someone who understands eternity better, (like the main character), knows that eventually, like his Earth life, this Hell will only seem like a glimpse; a short stay.

    Great great great book, Steve!

  7. smwaters says:

    I read this book over a year ago and I have never been so moved by a view of hell. Peck’s hell is no brimstone, fire, and burnings – a view that has never been meaningful to me nor one that has instilled any fear in me. In contrast, Peck’s hell does both of those things. This view of hell appears, at first blush, as an almost pleasant place where the inhabitant has a well-defined and seemingly manageable task after which she is allowed to move on – hence the title, “A Short Stay in Hell.” And yet, this hell produced in me a frozen hopelessness that I could not shake even weeks after finishing the book. I fear this hell. I fear it with my whole being. Maybe it was because of the initial sense of the task’s manageability that I ultimately felt such a deep sense of despair. This is story telling at its finest. This is fiction that penetrates to the core.

  8. I’m totally getting this book.

  9. Thanks, Ronan. This looks fascinating.

    I don’t know how Bro. Peck sneaked this by me, but I can’t find any mention of it anywhere related to AMV or the AML.

    Note to anyone who self-publishes or starts up a small press: if you publish Mormon-themed fiction (even if there are no direct LDS references), make sure you let us know.

    Also: I agree with Mike — hooray for reasonably priced e-books!

  10. I am not usually someone given to read much fiction, but the write-up is fascinating, Ronan. I’ll have to part with $2.50 to see if the book is even half as exciting as you make it out to be.

  11. Thanks all! Especially Ronan for putting this up!

    The first two questions I’ll delay answering because I want those to remain questions.

    3. Why only white people?
    No diversity is part of what makes it Hell. There is no intended comment on BYU in this.

    4. Is there a sequel in the works? No, but I spent most of my spare time in Vienna last year writing another novel. It’s even better.

  12. The sequel would be exactly like the original. That’s Hell. After the surface gloss wears off, this Hell is far more terrifying than any brimstone. Besides, those are just actors anyway…

    Yeah, this one has wormed its way into who I am.

  13. Just got mine in the mail; excited to dig in!

  14. I loved the story, too! After I read it I spent two weeks thinking about it off and on. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Then I went back and reread the Jorge Luis Borges story that it refers to and thought about that one for a while too. I highly recommend it!

  15. I must have missed the post that identified BCC’s SteveP as that Steven L. Peck. Wow. This is like discovering that the guy you’ve been carpooling with all year isn’t just Clark Kent, he’s that other guy.

    Hellishly memorable story, Superm — er, SteveP.

  16. Ardis, It was my glasses that threw you!

  17. Every time, Steve. Glasses are the most impenetrable disguise known to our little superhero community. It’s why I never wear ’em — I’m hiding in plain sight.

  18. I won’t go into why here, but Steve, it is indeed unfortunate that you chose Lulu for this book, especially given that there are so many better avenues for publishing or self-publishing.

    But, I have purchased both an ebook copy and print copy, and I’m glad to know about one of the gems among the dross on Lulu.

  19. Kent, I would love to learn the secrets! I cannot figure out the publishing world. Every time I take a step in that direction I am cast adrift. Nobody takes a biologist seriously (I can almost hear my voice to Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer on the Island of Misfit Toys after the introduction of the Charlie-in-a-box: “And I’m a Biologist who wants to be a writer,” then I join in at the whine, “We’re all misfits!”).

  20. Steve:
    I’ve tried to deal with a little of this on A Motley Vision. Send me a note at kent [at] moleyvision [dot] org, and I can give you some suggestions.

  21. Oh goody – I have something to read tonight!

    Next time you are on Lulu, you should look for a book titled “Our Existence” by Joseph Zvirzdin. He is from our little Branch and teaches high school science. A lot of the book is over my head but the BCCers probably would understand it just fine. I have found some really interesting ideas in the parts I do understand.

  22. I have been fortunate to be a lifelong correspondent of Dr. Peck, and a cheerful reviewer of many of his writings. As one of the first readers of “A Short Stay in Hell” a few years ago, I expressed to him then that I felt it was his finest work up to that point. A core concept of the book, that eternity is really a long time, has actually soured me on the concept of an eternal existence. I suspect that was not the intent of the author, but the book nevertheless offers a unique mind experiment on what it means to live forever, and the result is not entirely pleasant. In fact I found it rather haunting. That the author has been able to create a story that “haunts” the reader, perhaps for years after reading it, is a mark of a gifted writer. I hope that Steve will continue to share his work with a larger audience, be it through the auspices of Lulu or some worthier outlet.

  23. I’m eager to read this, since I love SteveP’s writing. I hope we get some evolution and images of Moab thrown in.

  24. Margaret,
    The one I wrote in Vienna is all about Moab (and Vienna)! Really, both. Not this one though.

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