Between it being just a pointless book and my general state of exhaustion from living under the tyrannical rule of a toddler, getting through this book has been a battle. The good news is this was the last book in the series and I‘m now free of Chesney Armstruther and his accidental war between heaven and hell. (And dinosaur people.) The bad news is that when I finished it I couldn’t quite believe it was over, and continued flipping pages through the author acknowledgements as if there was some literary equivalent of the Marvel post credits scene that would make it all worth it.
Realizing there wasn’t I had to ask, “That’s it?” And not in a good way. Not in a, “oh no, that’s all? I need twelve more books to give me a satisfying level of closure about all of these complete and well written characters I’ve grown to love as family, and satisfying storylines and character arcs we’ve all been through together.”
Nope. It was more of a, “that’s really how you’re going to wrap up this bullshit? By completely negating the last three books you dragged me through over the span of two pages and then having a picnic?”
The author spent more time explaining dinosaur people than he did writing a proper conclusion to this three book story, not to mention how misguided and insulting his attitude towards individuals with autism comes across. I lost count of how many times he reminded the reader that Chesney had been “cured” and now was “normal”. But that’s ok, since that was all changed in the blink of an eye at the very end of the book, along with every major point in the story until that moment, when Chesney was autistic again when it served a purpose.
So, pretty much the best thing about this series was the cover art.
I’ve really been trying to get through this book. It hasn’t been easy, and to be honest, Matthew Hughes, the author of “Hell to Pay”, really hasn’t been doing his readers any favors.
I accidentally selected the ebook edition on Goodreads when I started the third and thankfully final book in the “To Hell and Back” series, so Goodreads mistakenly thought that when I updated my progress to page 196, I was done with the book. I wish I was. I wish I still didn’t have to read another 140-something pages to close this series out.
Why couldn’t Goodreads be right?
Why am I reading about a dinosaur chasing Chesney, our hero, in slow motion? Or he’s super fast, so the dinosaur and everyone else just seems to be moving in slow motion. But don’t worry, in case you forget that fact, the author will remind you every third paragraph. Why am I reading about how Chesney accidentally broke his girlfriend’s ribs carrying her away from the dinosaur super fast. That’s not really important though, because a half-rate Christ figure who was written out of existence when God rewrote parts of the Bible healed her. His name is Simon, but that doesn’t matter since he’s been a more or less empty barrel of a character. It isn’t that you don’t like him, its that you don’t care one way or the other if he’s there. Also Chesney’s girlfriend is breaking up with him. While in the tree. Where they’re hiding from the dinosaur. Also there’s dinosaur people. Simon will probably become their king after they try to sacrifice Chesney and Melda to their dinosaur gods. Or something. I don’t know. More importantly, I don’t care.
So far, I can’t actually nail down what the plot is or where and to what end we’re supposed to be moving towards. The writing had been repetitive, with certain ideas being repeated over and over again without actually moving the story forward. The book feels like a 331 page run-on sentence constantly circling back to a previous idea because the author forgot he’d mentioned that already.
I enjoyed the first book in the series, “The Damned Busters”, even while I didn’t. But that feeling of just good enough, that optimism that what the book had going for it would make up for its faults, is wearing off, and I’m not sure there’s enough left to get me through those last hundred pages.
Reading the description for Sam Shepard’s posthumous short novel, “Spy of the First Person”, I’m immediately reminded of Paul Harding’s ‘Tinkers’, and C.S. Richardson’s ‘The End of the Alphabet’. Both novels feature main characters faced with their impending death, and forced to search their pasts and consider their limited futures for meaning and validation. Each goes about it in completely different yet equally beautiful ways and if you’ve read and enjoyed Shepard’s final book, I’d recommend checking both of those novels out.
How do you share the experience of dying? Of slowly losing control, not simply of your life, but of your body itself, and carry on knowing the end is bearing down on you? How does that change a person?
From the Publisher:
“The final work from the Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, actor, and musician, drawn from his transformative last days
In searing, beautiful prose, Sam Shepard’s extraordinary narrative leaps off the page with its immediacy and power. It tells in a brilliant braid of voices the story of an unnamed narrator who traces, before our rapt eyes, his memories of work, adventure, and travel as he undergoes medical tests and treatments for a condition that is rendering him more and more dependent on the loved ones who are caring for him. The narrator’s memories and preoccupations often echo those of our current moment—for here are stories of immigration and community, inclusion and exclusion, suspicion and trust. But at the book’s core, and his, is family—his relationships with those he loved, and with the natural world around him. Vivid, haunting, and deeply moving, Spy of the First Person takes us from the sculpted gardens of a renowned clinic in Arizona to the blue waters surrounding Alcatraz, from a New Mexico border town to a condemned building on New York City’s Avenue C. It is an unflinching expression of the vulnerabilities that make us human—and an unbound celebration of family and life.”