Written by: Myra Gabor
This is the story of William Virgil Hollingsmore. He knows that he is nearing the end of his life and wants to warn people “not to take evil into their hearts”.
It starts with a prologue concerning William’s daughter, Mairead, and his grandson, Louis. Louis is the scion of this old established, but financially reduced, Alabama family. He has been committed to an asylum by his mother where he is being treated by Dr. Nesbitt. I mention this since they show up again in the epilogue.
Louis gives Dr. Nesbitt the letter written by his grandfather, William. In it, William writes how, as a young man, he let Satan catch him. The whole book is written as a letter of warning to others. It is written in twelve chapters, each chapter representing one of William’s last days.
William writes of how he drank and ran around with women. To make himself feel better, he took it out on his wife and beat her when he was home. Then William sees the world through Mairead’s eyes. She repeats the pattern by marrying someone who beat her. She saw her parents’ marriage and thought that she was supposed to feel worthless. William now lives through every bad thing he has ever done to people, including reliving the death of his wife. Satan makes him feel every pain it is possible to feel.
In the end, William’s whining about his life and his evilness to others is just the maudlin ramblings of an old man who wants to make his peace with God and make sure the Devil doesn’t get him.
It’s well written, but there’s only so much breast beating and self-blame that one can stand. Ultimately, William’s attempt to save his soul left me completely uncaring about his fate. There have been too many real stories about people turning to religion when they’re old in order to save their souls, instead of taking responsibility for their actions when they could have done something to make things better for others.
It’s well known that too much of something doesn’t let us feel for others, it’s just mind numbing. And that is the gist of A Letter from Hell.