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the Complete Review
the complete review - compendium

Heaven and Hell

Mara Faustino

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To purchase Heaven and Hell

Title: Heaven and Hell
Author: Mara Faustino
Genre: Compendium
Written: 2004
Length: 163 pages
Availability: Heaven and Hell - US
Heaven and Hell - UK
Heaven and Hell - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : amusing, but a very mixed bag

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The folks responsible for the Harper's Index and Ben Schott and his miscellanies (Original, Food & Drink, and god knows what next) have a lot to answer for. Yes, they're fun, but the technique can be applied to any and everything under the sun -- and, one fears, soon will be. Mara Faustino has jumped on the bandwagon and used these templates to compile a book of heaven and hell trivia and arcana: quirky 'facts' (i.e. generally: myths), lists, jokes, charts, quotes, recipes, and more.
       Recipes ?
       Yes, recipes.
       In other words: it's meant to be a collection of everything you never knew (or needed to know) -- and what little you did -- about the great beyonds.
       There is some actual, useful information here, from a description of Buddhist hells to ... "Meat Loaf's Discography, as it Relates to Heaven and Hell". Okay, there's little information that is truly useful: what she offers is trivia, and much of that is, alas, trivial. But the variety, the sheer strangeness of some of it, and Faustino's humorous approach (or at least her attempt in that direction) make it an easy, quick, and occasionally amusing read.
       From brief histories of the Hells Angels and the Guardian Angels to a list of beatific bumper stickers ("13. Heaven is Just Out of This World"), descriptions of movies with paradisical plots (which includes a list explaining: "Why Filming Terence Malick's Days of Heaven Was Not Heavenly"), a Paradise Lost primer (with excerpts), and "Bon Mots for Beelzebub", Faustino covers a lot of ground. Often there are humorous asides or twists (or at least stabs at such): the television show 7th Heaven is one of her "Seven Deadly Places that are Utter Hell", having "some of the most annoying characters (or actors) ever known to network television". Some asides go a bit far astray -- one of her alternative-paradises is the: "Place described by Joni Mitchell in song 'Big Yellow Taxi' (now paved, and containing a parking lot)",
       Some of the more creative lists don't work so well either: a poesy primer for paradise -- "Words to Keep Handy When Writing a Rhyming Poem on Heaven" -- suggests both 'André Previn' (a stretch, but okay) and 'Genevan' (as in native of Geneva), a word that -- like another suggestion, 'Break-even' -- wouldn't work too well if rhyming is the goal. A list of "Ins and Outs of Heaven and Hell" (of the sort found in popular magazines re. cities, jobs, fashion, etc.) is, to say the least, a bit forced (bare feet are 'in' in heaven (ha, ha), goatees apparently "passé" in hell).
       And then there are the recipes -- for cocktails as well as all sorts of heveanly or hellish food (deviled eggs, angel food cake, etc.). Not quite enough to call this a cookbook, but enough to seem like a lot of padding.
       What ultimately irritates most about the book is that the assembled facts seem only a very loose collection: with only some exceptions, Faustino does not aim for a comprehensive compendium. Schott's Original Miscellany revelled precisely in the fact that it was pure arcana, but this is a subject-specific book and yet there's a lot about even those aspects of heaven and hell she does address that she leaves out. (A close second as far as irritation goes is the uneven sense and application of humour -- there are some funny comments, but she doesn't commit to humour throughout, which leaves an odd feel to the book).
       Heaven and Hell is an entertaining little book, just fine for something to leaf through on the toilet. Faustino has come up with quite a bit of varied, interesting, and odd trivia -- but the purpose of the whole exercise is unclear. It's not nearly thorough enough to be taken seriously, and not imaginative enough to be a stand-out quirky entertainment. Indeed, one imagines it could be part of a series, as hacks compile similar works on, say, Argentina, trout, prime numbers, and everything else imaginable, amusing little gift-books (it's no coincidence this book comes out in time for Christmas) but little more.
       Unexceptional, but amusing enough for what it is.

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Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mara Faustino teaches in New York.

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© 2004-2021 the complete review

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