Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sartre was wrong

So, I finished Andrew Pyper's newest one, The Damned, while running around taking care of a few things this afternoon. Now, the last time we visited with him, we heard a tale that used Milton's Paradise Lost as a jumping off point to the narrative. In this, we're again in a similar vein, only more along the lines of our dear friend Dante and his Inferno. 

To be fair, I liked Inferno more than Paradise Lost. Then again, I wasn't fond of Purgatorio, and downright hated Paradiso. As Sartre famously said, "Hell is other people." But, Hell is also more interesting to read about than Heaven.

We're not quite touring hell in The Damned, and our narrator, Danny Orchard, is missing a Virgil to guide him. Danny is an author; his book The After was a best selling non fiction book about his near death experience following the nearly simultaneous death of his sister Ashleigh. Difference being he came back with proof of his experience, a watch belonging to his mother, who had been buried wearing the watch.

Ashleigh was not a nice person in life, and death hasn't seemed to particularly improve her sociopathic tendencies. This is the nicest way to put it. Ashleigh's ghost still haunts Danny, trying to bring him to her.

See, the story we get early on is that on their 16th birthday, Ashleigh invited "friends" of hers to follow her to an abandoned house in Detroit (the family lives in the suburb of Royal Oaks). The friend stopped following her on their bikes around city limits. Danny gets a call, and goes to find his sister trapped in the basement of a burning house that collapses on top of him as he tries to save her. Ash dies, Danny sort of dies, has his NDE, in which he finds himself on an elevator with his [still living] father, who gives him his mother's watch. Which he still has when he wakes up alive. Danny is given to believe that the After (the good part anyway) is more or less reliving your greatest day.

Which, as time passes, Danny ends up writing The After, moving to Boston, and speaking at various groups for folks who have died and come back. In one of the meetings we sit in on with him, we meet a lady who went to Hell rather than Heaven. She ends up committing suicide a few pages later.

Danny meets Willa and her son Eddie. Willa had a NDE during a break in that killed her first husband. They wind up marrying, despite the looming specter of Ashleigh over the proceedings. Ashleigh shows up during a picnic, in which we find that Ashleigh can give Danny a heart attack, and Eddie can see her ghost. Danny dies, finds himself in Hell for a bit, then wakes up to find he needs a heart transplant. (It should be mentioned here that much like Danny's original Heaven, Hell is also in Detroit.) Danny's death has also given Ashleigh more ability to reach across the boundary, we find out. We also get some background on why Danny thinks his sister was the way she is. It seems they were born dead, strangled by the umbilical cord. The mother made a prayer, the doctor's eyes turned read, the babies came back. Ashleigh claims she saved Danny from the river of ice and the people grabbing at them on the other side.

After Willa drives her car into a river and Eddie claims he saw Ashleigh pull the steering wheel, Danny winds up going back to Detroit to see if he can solve Ashleigh's murder. Which in turn leads to him finding out exactly how disturbed his sister was/is, and leads to the last part of the book, wherein Danny dies again, and chases through Hell trying to solve the last bits of the puzzle.

Really, I liked this one a bit better than The Demonologist. The ending isn't nearly as confusing, although there are still a few things left unresolved by the last page. The plot does borrow heavily from Dante, although the concepts in Hell resemble Clive Barker more than Dante. (Dante tended to organize Hell by sins; Barker presented a much more personalized punishment. In this, people tend to wind up some place away from from where they were happy. For instance, a pedophile winds up trapped across the street from a carnival.) Also, the dead in Hell are a lot less likely to interact with each other, although they will attack new folks, who smell of life the Damned can't really remember that well. We're told Ashleigh is considered a Demon, since she is one that can roam Hell, instead of being trapped by circumstance. There are also monsters that attack people in Hell. This being Detroit, they appear as Tigers. Also, the concept of someone coming back from death weakening the barrier is brought up, although it mainly relates Ashleigh being able to influence more every time Danny returns. And of course the concept that people on one side of the line between happy and bad afterlife can influence the other side by acts of great will.

Really, it's a good read. Not quite as thought provoking as some of the blurbs on the cover would lead you to believe, but there are things left for the reader to contemplate as the novel ends.