Saturday, September 12, 2015

Review: "The Infernal" by Mark Doten

The synopsis on the back of The Infernal, the debut novel of Mark Doten, does absolutely nothing to warn you of the craziness of the novel he has written a kind of brutal, precise dissection of the War on Terror that is vague and frightening and within a few feet of brilliance. Reading it, you can’t help but think of the books that it is trying to be like, being less of a war book like Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds or Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and sharing more of its DNA with Mark Z. Danielewski. But reading it, and the emotions I got from it, a kind of well-earned frustration with the sinking feeling that the world as I know it is crumbling page by page, I couldn’t help but think of Blake Butler’s nightmarish 300,000,000, a book I read earlier this year. While this book is not as scary as that one, the quality of narrative is. What begins as a simple interrogation of a wounded boy in the Iraq desert turns ghoulish with world-wide menace that also, as I write this, reminds me a little of David Mitchell. Hooked up to a machine called The Omnosyne, which is described as a kind of torture device, whether intentionally or not, he broadcasts the inner thoughts of many of the War on Terror’s players. In this weird world, Osama Bin Laden is vampire-like figure that feeds off the blood of Jewish boys; Donald Rumsfield and Condoleezza Rice have a dark history, and a wounded veteran, adjusting to civilian life, is having murderous visions that terrify him. It gets confusing, and that’s an understatement, keeping many details cloaked in unreliable narrators and narrative threads that are frayed. But it that is the point of the novel, it does so very well, and I walked away from this novel exhausted, but with a reluctant admiration for story that went to great lengths to make me think differently than I normally do.

Rating: 4/5

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