Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Mark Cain has given us without a doubt one of the more original and humorous book collections available today with his Circles in Hell series, starting with the bestseller, Hell’s Super. In it, we are introduced for the first time to Steve, hell’s superintendent, its handyman, who has fallen in love with a saint come to ease the suffering of the damned, all while trying to solve the mystery of the sabotaged escalator which leads from the bowels of hell to the pearly gates themselves.
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Mark Cain Presents Hell’s Superintendent
The afterlife might perhaps be one of the most hotly-contested subjects in the history of mankind. Virtually every culture has its own idea of what awaits us once we leave this world, not to speak of all the extended and fringe beliefs small groups around the globe often hold.
While some give it a lot of extremely serious thought, there are others such as Mark Cain who use this vast ambiguity to their advantage and make a story of it. In our case, the story is titled Hell’s Super, the first book written by Cain in his Circles in Hell series.
With the book’s opening we are introduced to Steve, Hell’s superintendent, a handyman who goes around fixing pretty much everything, accompanied by the eternally-damned Orson Welles, now his assistant. It’s an extremely demanding job and things go on the fritz all the time; there is barely enough time to repair one thing before the next one breaks.
However, few things have caused the immense discomfort as the breakdown of the escalator, the one leading from the bowels of Hell all the way to the pearly gates of Heaven. Satan demands Steve investigate the issue, but at the moment his mind is wandering a bit, more specifically towards Flo, an almost saintly figure who chose to descend into Hell voluntarily to ease the suffering of its inhabitants.
She seems to like Steve too, but really, what are the odds of a romance happening in Hell?
Besides, Satan isn’t the kind of guy you can just ignore, and he’s awaiting results around the whole escalator sabotage ordeal. Seeing his big chance to earn some points with the red guy downstairs, Steve sets out to solve the mystery, and perhaps realize his chance with Flo.
A Relatable Inferno in Hell’s Super
While Hell is a place we generally tend to try and avoid, from the very start this novel makes it feel like a much more inviting place than usual, at least in terms of our exploration. Steve, our main guide through this domain, is in my opinion the perfect character for us to follow throughout the story. He’s already been down there for some time and knows his way around, but still hasn’t seen many of the surprises laying in wait for the next victims. He’s simply trying to make the best out of his eternal damnation, and in my eyes this made him not only very endearing, but also a character with whom it was easy to build a relation with.
While there are certainly two overarching plots which drive everything forward, there isn’t much of a rush to get from point A to point B, a good choice in my opinion considering the primary source of fun and fascination in this novel is the exploration of Hell itself.
A million people are simply a million social isolates, each one imprisoned within his or her own brain pan, in which a very private Hell plays out.― Mark Cain, Hell’s Super
While learning about the often counter-intuitive and original ways it functions, we also get to make the acquaintance of a bunch of famous people, some here by surprise, others not so much. Mark Cain doesn’t dwell on any particular person or topic for too long for them to become stale, and keeps this healthy exploratory pace until the end.
Overall I have to say I quite enjoyed the author’s overall depiction of Hell, landing heavily in the satire zone. While there are certainly a few tropes we’ve already seen, most of it comes together in an original enough way to make it all feel rather unique, and I believe that’s a rather big accomplishment when talking about a setting such as Hell, something about as old as our ability to imagine things.
The Absurdity of Satan’s Domain
At its core, Hell’s Super is primarily a comedy situated deep within the realms of absurdity. The pace is quite brisk and the action moves along fairly quickly, and as a result we are fairly consistently bombarded with depictions and concepts bordering on the ridiculous.
Steve’s entire demeanour helps to accentuate this atmosphere, as he tries to stay casual and true to himself while being eternally-damned. While some authors wouldn’t know what to do with such a combination of elements, Mark Cain uses them perfectly to create a fast-moving comedy of absurdity.
Personally-speaking, I thoroughly enjoyed this ridiculous depiction of Satan’s home, even if it was quite heavy on the jokes which seem to be as omnipresent as hellfire itself. Too much of anything is, by definition, a bad thing, and I could see how some people would be off-put by the relentless humour, despite its good quality.
I really think this is one of the very few flaws carried by this novel, and ultimately if you enjoy this type of literature, it’s something you should be able to look past without too much trouble. At the same time, while the journey might be quick and ridiculous, the author still finds a place to tell a compelling story about trying to preserve one’s humanity even in the face of overwhelming odds.
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There are a few moments which put the laughs on pause for a few moments to deliver reflections about life and our confrontations with evil. Beneath the veneer of comedy and absurdity, this novel carries with it a certain insight into our own nature, and whether or not you agree with the author’s stipulations, they are more than enough to make you think a little bit.
The Final Verdict
Hell’s Super by Mark Cain is an accomplishment in the realm of comedy and absurdity, without skimping on the more introspective and insightful moments the adventure offers. This depiction of hell and its inhabitants has a lot of charm and potential to it; if absurd comedies are up your wheelhouse, then I can safely recommend you give this novel a shot.
Mark Cain is an accomplished tuba player and writer living in Austin, Texas. His “Circles in Hell” series, which includes Hell’s Super, A Cold Day in Hell and I‘m No Angel, became a national bestseller.
Outside the series, he also wrote a critically-acclaimed novel Boomer at Midlife, and in 2018 Cain won the Short Stories by Texas Authors award with his tale Fenced In.