Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Book Review: A Short Stay in Hell
Pithy and poignant, A Short Stay in Hell is an existential tour de force. The beauty of the book, like the despair of the Hell it describes, lies in its relentless familiarity. It is as if Peck has cobbled together a personal parable for each and every one of us, a hauntingly intimate allegory for the everyman. And that is the genius of Peck’s work. The author manages to weave a fantastical tale of mythological proportions in a way that remains resonant and relevant to readers everywhere, a sort of memoir of the human condition. One would be hard pressed to come up with a major philosophical question that is not at play within the book’s narrative: Who am I? What is truth? What is meaning? What is time? Not that Peck sets out to answer these questions. At best, Peck implicitly concedes that humankind’s search for definitive answers to profound questions is both taxing and, more often than not, fruitless. He also implicitly acknowledges that the search is inevitable. One familiar idiom sums it up quite nicely: you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.