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.