“From Broadcast Central in the Great Metropolis where all rivers converge, all storms make a beeline, and all the levees look a little fragile, it’s the Evening News from Hell. And now here’s your anchorman, looking a little fragile himself, Hatcher McCord.” The voice of Beelzebub, Satan’s own station manager, mellifluously fills Hatcher McCord’s head from the feed in his ear. He squeezes the sheaf of papers with both hands, and he knows even without looking that they’re blank by now and he’ll be on his own—the last thing he wants is to rely on the teleprompter, though he will be compelled to try—and yes, he’s feeling a little fragile—and the three dozen monitors arrayed before him burst into klieg-light brightness with his face pasty and splashed with razor burn and dark around the eyes.
“Good evening,” Hatcher says, from the teleprompter. “Good evening, good evening, good evening,” he continues to read. “Poopy butt, poopy butt, poopy butt.” And he wrenches his eyes from the scroll that is about to drop its baby-talk irony and get into some serious obscenity. Hatcher has been allowed to keep his anchorman ability to improvise, though even in his earthly life when he had to do this, which he did most every night—to cut or expand to fit the time hole—we’re eleven seconds heavy, we’re twenty seconds light—he churned with anxiety at the grasp of every phrase. He understands, of course, that his anxiety is why he’s allowed to keep the skill. And Satan does indeed seem to want the news to be the news every night. Hatcher knows he gets to pulls this off, though that doesn’t lessen his worry.
“With Hell, Butler has…created a comic modernist masterpiece to set alongside the best works of Robert Coover, John Barth, or Kurt Vonnegut.”
“A compelling surrealist romp…”
“Compulsively readable…complex and exquisitely written set pieces of inspired insight into the sinful and broken nature of humanity.”
“Robert Olen Butler’s vision of Hell and the tortures available is so much more unsettling, painful, and, I suppose, frightening, than anything we get in the Bible. This isn’t a horror book, though. For one thing, it’s written with a wonderful light touch and genuine humour. And though the tortures of Hell do involve the usual sulphurous rains and physical pains, here it’s more about the constant frustrations of hopes dashed, yearnings unfulfilled, humiliations on a very human level, and every after-life experience leaving you unsatisfied. I feel like this novel has been a part of my inner world for ages.”
— Joe Craig, from The Joe Craig Blog and author of the Jimmy Coates Series