JoeyPinkney.com Book Review
Mack Dunstan’s Inferno
by Paul Collins
3 of 5 Stars
Fashioned after Dante’s Inferno, Paul Collins’ novel Mack Dunstan’s Inferno is similar in style and fashion to its progenitor. Collins’ novel follows Mack Dunstan through his descent through Hell after passing away due to complications stemming from Alzheimer’s disease. For Mack Dunstan, based on famed actor Charlton Heston, death is not the end of the story: it is the beginning. As he navigates through the path of the afterlife, Mack Dunstan finds himself trapped by his ego, unable to smoothly transition to the final stage of peace. Terrorized by the inequities of his guilts and attachments to the physical world, Mack Dunstan finds himself in a precarious position and not resting in peace.
Luckily, Mack Dunstan has a guide in the famed Roman poet/philosopher Virgil. Whisked away on a journey to Hades, Mack Dunstan must face his imperfections. Travelling through the netherworlds, Virgil and Mack Dunstan pass by the tormented souls of people who lived lifestyles from mediocre to extravagant. Paul Collins paints desolate landscapes that evoke horrid imagery straight from your worst nightmares.
As Virgil and Mack Dunstan get closer to their destination, they see celebrities like The Bowery Boys and their leader Leo Gorcey, as well as Buster Keaton, Fanny Rice and Jack Benny while trudging through the terrifying terrain, edging towards the light. There are even appearances from the likes of Woody Allen, Michael Jackson, Hugh Hefner and Heidi Fleiss.
The Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is the prominent issue within Mack Dunstan’s Inferno. Mack Dunstan’s position on gun ownership is challenged by the various ghosts who tell their tales of death by weapons. As the novel progressed, Mack Dunstan’s encounters with gun ownership opponents felt overdone. It became repetitive: Dunstan would travel with Virgil for a stretch, up pops a dead soul, the dead soul talks about how his/her death was related to guns, Dunstan would cringe, Dunstan and Virgil would travel again. Wash, rinse, repeat.
On their travel to Hades and through the Seven Gates of Hell, Mack Dunstan also encounters dead people who represent metaphors of things at are wrong with present-day society. Issues like obesity, health-care disparities, and predatory money lending practices are seen through the tortured souls that litter the path of Mack Dunstan and Virgil’s journey.
Mack Dunstan’s Inferno is written in a stream of consciousness flow. Paul Collins describes in great detail the landscapes Virgil and Mack Dunstan pass through. Sometimes, this backfires. Sentences full of smaller phrases and multiple adjectives tended to oversaturate the reading experience. There are definitely times for and author to flesh out scenarios using an extensive vocabulary where simple words cannot properly do justice, but I found sentences like this unnecessarily verbose: “They clambered a promontory and hastily rushed across a weather-beaten path, turning across a corner, where they saw several persons outstretched on the ground.” Word choice, and sometimes word order, made visualizing the landscapes difficult in quite a few places.
Throughout Mack Dunstan’s Inferno, spoken dialogue was placed within quotation marks and internal dialogue was italicized. I found the inclusion of the internal dialogue annoying for three reasons: 1) the internal dialogue sometimes came at the end of the same paragraph of a character’s spoken dialogue, sometimes it didn’t, 2) many times, the internal dialogue didn’t move the story forward and 3) the internal dialogue repeated what was just said out loud. When it’s spot on, inclusion of the internal dialogue was great because it let you know what one character was thinking that the other characters didn’t. When there’s a misfire, it slows down the story. It took a while to get used to the fact that there are times where the external dialogue of one character was followed directly with the internal dialogue of another within the same paragraph.
I really enjoyed the real-life characters Collins pulled from all points in human and spiritual history. It’s not often that you get an appearance by Hugh Hefner only to be followed a couple of chapters later by Jesus, Himself. Every ghost and apparition served an explicit purpose in teaching Mack Dunstan about his skewed morality, the abomination of the world of the living and his final ascension into being one with the Universe.
Mack Dunstan’s Inferno could have been a more powerful effort had the book been better edited. Some of the editing problems, like using the word “presents” for “presence”, unnecessarily slowed down progression of the plot. Some of the words were complex yet not used efficiently, like the “clamber the promontory” mentioned earlier. The use of various deceased and living celebrities and public figures to argue the morality of various societies throughout history while using Dante’s Inferno as a foundational prototype was genius; Mack Dunstan’s Inferno could have been better executed to give Paul Collins’ idea full justice.