Welcome to Hell
by “Bad” Billy Pratt
(Terror House Press, 2021)

The title is absolutely apt. We discover in the notes that the author takes the title from a song. This is definitely a book, but not a novel in the sense that we/I normally think of as a novel.

Rather than following a developing character, we are presented with a series of shorter, sadly and intentionally repetitive stories, where the poor shmuck, whom we never have physically described, has a series of depressingly empty sexual encounters with various cipher women.

These experiences are reduced in their authenticity as he goes along.

I hear echoes of Michael Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time, describing the misery of immortality.

The fact that the character Billy seeks authenticity is laudable, but sad, as this poor creature is looking for it outside of himself.

We learn later that the author Billy is trying to show the attempt to follow up an authentic (teenage) sexual/romantic encounter with repeats in adulthood, and deliberately presents each liaison as less satisfying, less “authentic” than the last.

I am reminded of a line from a song by Paul Simon, “And I only kiss your shadow, I cannot feel your hand.”

He’s of course never going to find it if he is looking for a replay of his past.

This journey into Hell is a first-person narrative by a mysteriously-veiled character who has an abhorrence of growing up.

At one point, we are told that this character wears dark clothes, at another that he goes to a gym, yet another that he deals with a brief drug addiction, but the most relevant fact that we are given about him is that he wants to be a writer and make “art.”

Given the poor fellow’s inability to engage with people around him, or even himself in anything other than a surface-slipping way, this dream is unfortunately never going to be achieved.

This book is a deeply sad indictment on the vapidity of an Internet-led life lived through the equally distorting lens of Hollywood movies and popular music.

The character states that he is impressed with Pynchon’s postmodern classic, The Crying of Lot 49, and wishes to emulate Pynchon’s use of language.

He is certainly adroit in creating a good turn of phrase, and puts some of his salient points very well. But his constant confession to be trying to create “art” seems as futile as his mind-numbingly repetitive sexual encounters, for the very reason that it has been bred in this barren cultural landscape.

He seems to have a weight problem (I re-read the notes and he had one, past tense) as he has an almost near-obsession about fat women.

It is odd how the word “fat” has become the worst insult one can hurl in this Hell he describes, which seems to be completely devoid of real connection, or even the acknowledgement of real, genuine, authentic problems in the real, genuine country of America.

Problems like desperate destitution, the multiplicity of crimes due to guns and drugs, the mentally ill turned out onto the streets, the homeless clogging the alleys and parks, yes, even in his beloved suburbia, although admittedly far less visible.

I too, when living in suburban America, took to trying to ease my mind by evening sittings on the paint peeling bleachers of the town’s baseball field. This pleasant pastime was, of course, interrupted by a gangly teen trying to sell me drugs. I suspect it was his first attempt, and he would in time get better, but the empty-eyed approach was deeply disturbing. I wanted to knock on his forehead and see if anyone was home.

This book reminds me forcibly of a Real Housewives reality show, which I watched for five minutes before turning it off in disbelief, my disbelief being that people could be taken in, bamboozled into thinking these purportedly real people were actually “real.”

I strongly suspected they were scripted actors deliberately portraying completely empty vessels.

But I was wrong.

The similarity of this selection of linked personal essays to this awful “reality” show and others of its ilk is deliberate, I am sure, and the author has some very interesting things to say about creating identity as a consumer product.

When I take his comments on board and use them as a filter for my memory of those five wasted minutes, I realise I was watching these women constructing themselves for the camera.

This is disturbing enough without the horrible realisation at this moment that they thought/think this vapidity is what other people want, and that their weird Internet culture requires.

These people are total anathema to me, and it is no wonder that the poor author slips into the deep water of depression after trying to deal with this.

A long time ago, I tried to grasp the “reality” of African (and other) cultures which are quite at home with spirits sharing their world. At the time, this seemed a difficult task, but still considerably easier than grasping hold of this Hellish reality of empty masks.

Even at the very end, speeding on the way to work, he is both a complete jerk and a man watching his complete jerk behaviour with a wide-eyed wonder at how things could be this bad in his very own Hell.

Billy…just slow down.

My advice to readers is to read the endnotes first. Through them, you meet Billy the author, intelligent, well-read, and very knowledgeable about pop culture, especially music. This will give the reader a firm base to stand on while navigating the slipping sands of this very sad, but certainly thought-provoking, Hell.

Click here to buy Welcome to Hell.