Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Hell" by Robert Olen Butler


It's been a very long time since I reviewed a book on this blog, but there are times when something absolutely MUST be said, wrongs MUST be righted, goodness upheld and a flying drop kick MUST land right on some guy's beezer.

We went to a local bookstore. Pulitzer Prize winning author, Robert Olen Butler, was giving a talk on his newest book, "Hell". These sorts of engagements are almost always fun, if not for the anecdotes, then for the fellowship with another writer. One or both of those is enough to get me to buy the book and give it a try.

One of the things we learned about the story was that Mr. Butler's fourth wife had just ran off with Ted Turner. Yes, THAT Ted Turner. That's why Hell is set in Atlanta. Now, I've been to Atlanta a few times, so I can say with some certainty that Butler's version of Hell is a little different than Dante's or John Milton's - although the sex is the same. It would appear that nowhere is one to actually enjoy it, even by yourself.

Another thing we learned about the book is that there are lots of people in Butler's "Hell" that one would expect to see in Hell. Dick Nixon, Anne Boleyn, and Bill Shakespeare to name a few. There are plenty that one wouldn't as well. The most important thing, it seems, isn't who, but why. Answering the question "Why are you in Hell?" is so important that it appears as a regular segment on the evening news in Hell.

We also learned that Mr. Butler had uncovered some very interesting connections that have occurred in History. Allow me to quote, "There is only one degree of coital separation between JFK and Adolph Hitler." The link? Party girl and Nazi sympathizer/spy, Inga Arvad. The source? Al Gore's unfailingly accurate invention, the Internet. THAT bold statement turned some heads!


Well, with information like that between the covers of "Hell", how could I resist? I bought the book. Had it signed by the author, took it back to my hotel room, and mortgaged an evening reading it.

Have you ever heard the expression "Christ on a bike!"? Have you ever meant it? How about "Christ on Rocket ship escaping Hell with Richard Milhaus Nixon!"? Before you think that "Hell" is SciFi or something, it should be said that they don't actually make it. Turns out that they don't make it because this story so bad it has it's own explosive gravity.

The part that really finished the story for me was a consumptive sex scene that was about as far from "bawdy romp" as the Donner's Party in the Sierra Nevadas was from a dinner table. If you're going to use a severed human penis as an after dinner mint, at least say it with a smile.

The flying drop kick thing in the first paragraph above is paraphrased very loosely from an piece Tom Archdeacon wrote about a professional wrestling event way, way back on Feb 20, 1987 for the Miami News. When I compare that newspaper article to Robert Olen Butler's book "Hell", I can see that the format of the material is different, but not it's subject. A more succinct and gripping telling of Mr. Butler's story could only have been made by sticking your tongue between your lips and blowing though them to produce a loud, sloppy-wet, and flatulent blubbering.

Hell? Yes. "Hell"? No.

9 comments:

Amber Star said...

Skeeter,
Why would Shakespeare be in Hell? I've found his works to be most profound and I actually love them. I'm hoping I don't go to Hell for loviing his works...and am pretty sure that wouldn't be the major tipping point.

I just finished "This Side of the Sky" and it was a very good book without pretentions.
http://www.amazon.com/This-Side-Sky-Elyse-Singleton/dp/0399149201
in case you want to check it out.

I liked it a lot and could actually keep the characters in my head. Sometimes I have trouble with that because I read before going to sleep.

teenie said...

Gee, Skeeter, why don't you tell us how you really feel? LOL. I guess I will scratch this book off my "to read" list. I am working on Clavell's "Whirlwind" --I know, it is old, but I have read all of his Asian series except this one and so far, I am enjoying this one as well. Finding the time to read this huge piece of fiction is yet another story!

Jai Joshi said...

I think I'll give this one a miss then.

I don't understand why Shakespeare would be in Hell either. Or Anne Boleyn. She did a lot to try to reform England's corrupt church system and set up schools to educate people. She was blamed for a lot of things Henry did and may not have been the nicest person in the world to Katherine of Aragon but she wasn't the monster she's been made out to be. Doesn't seem fair to see her in hell.

Jai

Amber Star said...

Skeeter...where have you gone? We miss you.

Technonana said...

Hmmm, You have given this Nana a lot to think about... not the least is that THIS is MOST definitely not a book she would even THINK about picking up!

zirelda said...

OMG....

I've been finding myself reading all of the books Rach brings home from school and I'm very much enjoying them.

Seems when you get my age, all there is out there are romances (ick), murder mysteries (how many ways can you twist that plot?) and self help books.

Sigh....

惠蘋 said...

nice to know you, and glad to find such a good artical!.........................

佳慧 said...

感謝予我如此動感的blog!.........................

Megan said...

You still with us, Skeeter?