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Pleasant Hell Paperback – November 29, 2004

4.2 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Paperback, November 29, 2004
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Capricorn Publishing (November 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0975397044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0975397046
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,945,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

The howls and shrieks of the negative reviews offer the most positive reasons for reading Dr. Dolan's novel, but they left out many of its other fine qualities. Above all, Pleasant Hell courageously and painfully honest. It's one of the first, true books I've read about my generation and about what it was like to grow up in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is also beautifully written, as if Nabokov and Céline's literary DNA got spliced. It's often quite funny. And, unlike nearly other literary project, it reveals an amazing lack of vanity, right down to the author's jacket photo. In fact, Dr. Dolan is my new hero, our very own suburban Solzhenitsyn. Buy it. Read it. Make your friends buy it, too. This is a book that can't have too many readers.
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Be warned: Wound a nerd and you create a monster. Poet Dolan's glorious meditation on the inner life of the outcast manages to make misanthropy feel fresh. No compromises or happy lessons here -- just dreams of Tolkien elf girls lost to a world whose pain is recorded in the stigmata of moldy karate uniforms, runny foot scabs and dog bites. An unconscionable perspective on the value of human life. I loved it.
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I inhaled Dolan's book in a single sitting, barring a few interruptions. While each individual page could theoretically be rationalized by the sympathetic humanist, the cumulative impact is amazing, nauseating. Dolan animates cowardly failure and youthful ignorance with no net at all. The freefall of tedium may remind one of personal history--if not, check your contempt and incomprehension at the door. Personally, the viscous bile of my life stuck in my throat, leaving me riveted, terrified and angry.
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Just to qualify my admiration: I was not a nerd in high-school, but was a low-ranking, middle eschelon "super person". Yet, in spite of my easily acquired social graces, I still found it necessary to invent an over-evolved, compensatory sexual fantasy-life, in which I presided over a harem of trans-dimensional shape-shifters (these creatures I rather unoriginally dubbed "The Amorphi", and their preferred mode of entry into my teen-age bedroom was through a sudden, luminous gash in the fabric of space-time, appearing first as viscous, lavalamp-like blobs, and then gradually assuming Heidi Klum-esque proportions). My point being: everyone's a pathetic fantasist at heart. Dolan, however, clinging to every nerd's pet conceit--that only the downtrodden nerds deserve oppulent fantasy lives--believes that "cool" people are cool only by virtue of their not being burdened with absurd imaginations. I took this implied slight very personally.

Apart from that, Dolan writes like an angel. There are the plate-techtonic mould-growths covering his never-washed karate-robe (too vivid not to be true); there is the faint patter of falling bullets raining down from the hills (and haven't you always wanted to know, first-hand, what happens to that round fired wildly into the air? And who registers its return to earth?); there is the pseudo-gothic lettering on the love-note written to the most beautiful girl in school (a detail so heartbreaking, so sweet, that the even vapid love object found herself sort of blushing on Dolan's behalf); there is "A huge Buick...snared on the chain link fence, like a seven-gill shark in a tuna net"; and the immortal line, "Blood doesn't really sweep".

The man has chops, but he somehow manages to flaunt them without seeming overly precious.
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Dolan certainly has genius and he may yet prove to be a great writer. If the author, a reclusive Californian intellectual who purportedly alternates between Auckland and Moscow, expired tomorrow, then Pleasant Hell at least would stand as a solitary testament to the deceit and parasitism which characterise our breed, much like Ducasse's Maldoror or Thomson's The City of Dreadful Night. Yet with brilliant originality, Dolan offers a strange vision of hope: beyond redemption, the psychological freedom which inheres in authentic expressions of nihilism emerges as the author's great theme. It is a theme to be savoured as our brainwashed cousins continue to sweat out their lives in the tumid megalopolises which will surely prove our extinction. This is an outstanding novel; if you're smart, and looking for a real writer, then by all means READ THIS BOOK.
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If John Dolan and I were to ever meet, I'm pretty sure that we would not get along. He would see me as an obnoxious reactionary jerk; I would see him as a sniveling, defeatist dweeb. Nonetheless, Dolan is probably the closest thing I have to a personal hero.

John Dolan is best known for the War Nerd columns he writes under his Gary Brecher pseudonym, the fat, disgruntled data entry clerk from Fresno. And while I love the War Nerd as much as every other marginalized ex-dork, I was also a fan of Dolan's Exile book reviews. It was through Dolan that I not only discovered many of the authors who influenced my writing--Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Charles Portis, Philip K. Dick and more--but I also learned HOW to write. Reading his blistering takedowns of talentless hacks like Jonathan Franzen, James Frey and Thomas Friedman, I got a crash course in literary frankness; avoiding bathos, overwriting, and every other bad habit my English professors tried to instill in me.

So what if Dolan is a jerk? Does the fact that he's not the kind of guy I'd like to have a beer with (whatever that means) somehow invalidate his writing talent? That loathsome mentality is why modern literature is complete garbage. Americans, even supposedly progressive ones, read books the way that fundamentalist Christians do: they evaluate them based solely on whether they're "moral," damn everything else. This infantile impulse is why a con man like Frey can make millions off of blatantly fake memoirs while Dolan himself is reduced to homelessness.

I'm not brownnosing when I say that Pleasant Hell, Dolan's debut novel, is the best one of the 21st century so far, or at least in the top three.
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