Review by Don Havis
S. A. Alenthony has presented to all of us freethinkers, of whatever stripe, a truly masterful work of literary achievement. The Infernova, as you have probably already guessed, is a parody of Dante Aleghieri's (1265 - 1321) time honored classic, The Inferno. The reader does not need to be familiar with the nearly 700 year old original in order to greatly enjoy this new and remarkable "take-off." Perhaps the only thing that it would be helpful for the reader to know is that Dante was the scion of a well-to-do Florentine family and a real toady to the Catholic Church. Dante's imaginary Hell is richly populated not only with ordinary sinners, but is packed with enemies of the Church both real-often identified by name-and imaginary, such as the mythological gods of paganism. Dante's nine circles, or levels, of Hell are filled with suffering souls who range from those who were simply guilty of doubt, to those who led thousands or even whole nations to-the worst sin of all-disobedience of the Church's teachings. Just as Dante was guided on his journey through Hell by a celebrated writer, so too here-but it is the irreverent Mark Twain taking the role of Virgil. What a perfect choice!
In The Infernova, as in any good parody, the situation is reversed. In Alenthony's Hell, it is the religious who receive their just desserts at various levels of severity. Names are named, from early snake-oil salesmen such as Mary Baker Eddie and L. Ron Hubbard to those who lead larger movements such as Jim Jones, and Charles Taze Russell. In deeper levels of hell, the founders of national and international religions such as Joseph Smith, Abraham, and Moses are "called out." Finally, in Canto XXX, our boy J.C.-simply referred to as "Christ"-and the Islamic "Mohammed" are not spared.
The descriptions of each succeeding level of Hell are, like Dante's original, one of the most fascinating and engaging features of the book. Although Alenthony thankfully does not quite share Dante's fascination for sheer blood and gore, the depictions of each level dramatically involve the reader's senses of vision, hearing and even smell. Each dreadful circle of Hell is eloquently drawn for the reader to clearly imagine. In addition, the exact punishment chosen for the particular offender is often cleverly devised to perfectly fit the offense. For example, one large group of former humans on earth was transformed into plants and animals, and as Mark Twain explains in Canto XXI, "'But their awareness kept intact. They've been/ transformed to live in a primitive state,/ and to first-hand witness the origin/ of new species. That is the timeless fate/ for Creationists.' I laughed when I heard/ all this, as the irony was so great."
Perhaps the most amazing feature of Alenthony's book is his skill and use of the particular narrative poetic form that he employs. The poetic pattern used is the rather difficult form of three line stanzas where the first and third lines rhyme, and the middle line forms the model for the first and third lines of the succeeding stanza. In other words, the rhyming pattern is as follows: ABA, BCB, CDC, etcetera (see above). Each Canto, or chapter, of approximately the same length as was Dante's-thirty-four Cantos in all-contain a long series of triplet stanzas ending with a dramatic rhyming couplet. All of this is done in such a subtle way, with many rhymes often occurring at mid-sentence, so that the reader is often only dimly aware that there is a regular rhyming pattern at all. The story just flows in a very natural story-telling way. Incidentally, Alenthony chose this more rigorous route because it was the exact pattern that Dante followed, even though most translations of The Inferno rhyme only the first and third lines of each stanza. Translation from the original old-Italian is just too difficult for the translator to retain both the meaning and the complex rhyming pattern.
It is difficult for this reviewer to come up with even one slight criticism, which I know is somewhat traditional for reviewers to do. If absolutely pushed to the wall, I would say that I might have enjoyed the naming of a few more names of religious rapscallions, and a few less naming of extremely obscure ancient Aztec gods and/or the names of millennia-old water-spirits featured particularly in Canto XXXI.
I may be playing personal favorites here, but I'd like to be reassured that the likes of Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Garner Ted Armstrong, Tammy Fay Baker, and Aimee Semple McPherson, to name just a few, are down there somewhere. However, judging from the books otherwise inclusivity of religious sinners, I can rest assured that they have not escaped Alenthony's Hell.
In summary, I highly recommend this truly remarkable modern day masterpiece.
(Published by Blackburnian Press, PO Box 385591, Bloomington, Minnesota 55438. www.blackburnianpress.com
, ISBN 978-0-9819678-9-9, 212 pp. paperback - $14.95)