20 November 2010

Books: Hell by Robert Olen Butler (2009)

If you ever wondered who ended up in Hell, well in Robert Olen Butler’s novel, just about everyone -including some who are still around today.

We meet Hatcher McCord, who was once a prominent new caster who ends up in Hell, well, reading the news. And in this version of the damned, how you led your life (whether you were good or evil) does not matter. It’s all, it seems, the personal hell we put ourselves through while we thought we were alive. But through the grapevine, well, Dante’s girlfriend Beatrice, Hatcher hears of way to escape Hell, and thus the clutches of Satan (who appears to have a boat load of daddy issues). So the former live newscasters begins a journey to find the back door out of the underworld, all while trying to figure out his feelings for his ex-wives, and Anne Boylen -who does some the oddest things with her severed head, things that Hatcher could, or would never dream of.

Olen’s novel, a sort of homage to Dante’s Inferno (and who is, damned it seems, to write Inferno over and over again), we have many cameos of famous people, like J. Edgar Hoover (who says he is in Hell because "I was needed. Can you imagine how many Communists there are down here?"), Dick Cheney, George W. Bush (who is confused and thinks he’s in Heaven), William Shakespeare (who’s weeping for quill and ink because "his hard drive keeps crashing and he loses his plays"), Virgil, Jerry Seinfeld, Christopher Hitchens, and Mother Teresa.

It is at times funny, even as it tries to explore the darker side of humanity. But Olen does take his time getting the novel going to where it suppose to go, and at a scant 232 pages, that’s pretty bad. Still, a worthy read, with a great wordsmith (cause I thought the Hitchens spot was awfully clever).

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