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Spotlight on: Last Burn in Hell: Director's Cut by John Edward Lawson

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Last Burn in Hell: Director's Cut by John Edward Lawson John Edward Lawson, Last Burn in Hell: Director's Cut

Kenrick Brimley (call him "Ken" or "Rick" but never "Kenrick" — and he's no relation to that other Brimley who "eats the oatmeals") has a job you didn't hear about at the high school Job Fair. He works at the local women's prison as a sort of conjugal consultant, offering Death Row residents one final night of pleasure before the state kills them. The closest thing he has to a long-term relationship is with Leena, a convicted arsonist whom he has visited multiple times due to the various postponements of her execution.

Last Burn in Hell: Director's Cut is a newly expanded edition of the first novel (and reportedly the first of a series) by John Edward Lawson — publisher, editor, author, and Bram Stoker Award–nominated poet (for The Troublesome Amputee). Just like the special edition DVDs of your favorite films, this book offers deleted scenes, an alternate ending (that lets the reader choose between "into the sunset" and "final confrontation" styles), a soundtrack to assemble, promotional stills, and more features that make it a must-have even for those who already have the original edition of Last Burn in Hell.

Lawson tells the story as a modern-day pulp-style adventure, with Brimley going from one implausible situation to another in rapid succession (see David Dodge's The Last Match for a good example of the style). We can only sit back and watch as Brimley goes from prison guard to Death Row gigolo, from pop star hanger-on to movie-set masseur, and from the inadvertent next big rap superstar to the inadvertent instigator of a rash of suicides.

Brimley's strange adventure itself would be enough to make Last Burn in Hell: Director's Cut a fun read, but the author also satirizes the style and himself in the process: he's quite aware of how unbelievable the whole thing is (and especially how his character is going through all too familiar fictional situations), and embraces it with fervor. But instead of seeming cliched and trite, it all adds up to a skewed kind of originality.

A few political statements worm their way into the story, but they're presented with a good deal of humor — as if to say Don't take me too seriously ... but pay attention! — that makes them go down easy. John Edward Lawson is very much a man of ideas (one need only read his poetry to understand that), and Last Burn in Hell: Director's Cut shows that not only is he constantly coming up with new ones, but he is also unlikely to run out of them anytime soon.

[A final note: Though it would be easy to slap a label on it based on Lawson's prior work (especially his appearance in The Bizarro Starter Kit), don't call this book bizarro. Lawson has used the picaresque method, very familiar to the mainstream, to tell his story, and Last Burn in Hell: Director's Cut is really no stranger than, say, John Irving's early novels. In fact, it would very likely appeal to fans of The World According to Garp, and it deserves that large and diverse audience.]

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