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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Patron Book Review: Hell by Robert Olen Butler

Posted by EPL Patron and guest blogger, Irv S.

Robert Olen Butler's Hell is an amazing place peopled with fascinating characters going nowhere and suffering interminably. Satan thwarts their attempts at suicide, they must continue to "live" in Hell for eternity. The redeeming feature for them is that nearly everyone is there and for the reader is that the satire is nonstop.

The head of security is J. Edgar Hoover who claims that he is there because he must  keep an eye on the Communists. The chauffeur is Richard Nixon who enjoys crashing his limousine into crowds. The pedestrians he kills quickly reassemble themselves in order to resume their misery.  Bobby Fischer the former chess grand master always plays white and always loses to his opponent, a computer. Jerry Seinfeld does his act to a deadly silent audience. Anne Boleyn cohabits with the protagonist, Hatcher McCord, a former TV news anchorman who now does the evening news on Broadcast Central in the Great Metropolis. Their sex life is completely frustrating, only in part because of her propensity to remove her head and in part because of her desire to resume her relationship with Henry, who is depicted in his late years, fat and sick. Most popes and U.S. presidents are there. Many of the characters  seem obsessed with the question, "Why am I here?"

The book is truly clever, the characters quite interesting, the plot somewhat thin.  Butler, a graduate of Granite City High School, is a brilliant writer.  At least one critic justifiably dubs him the best living American author.

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