Paul Collins is a Canadian author of note. He has not only penned three novels before this one, but he also is a freelance commercial director and a committed activist concerning youth violence. But in this current book, Mack Dunstan’s Inferno he takes a giant step forward, bravely writing a novel about a Dantesque journey into life after death – the consequences versus rewards of how we will spend our eternal days based on our actions in this life. No, this is not a religious drama: quite the opposite.
Even though Dante’s (and now Paul Collins’) Inferno is based on the concept of sinners going to purgatory and then descending to the various rings of hell depending on the seriousness of their earthly life, here it is a tool to expose the life of one who has passed on and the people he meets as he journeys into the underworld.
Paul Collins is intelligent and informed and his comfort with ancient history is very much in the foreground of this book. But let’s get there first. A man, Mack Dunstan is on his death bed, dying of Alzheimer’s Disease among other things and as he dies he goes through the phases of expurgation as he gradually leaves his corporal being and becomes a spirit that enters the netherland of the afterlife (or continuation of the journey of life as some would prefer). He departs the sterile hospital bed and the doctors and nurses and evaporates into the light – and beyond.
Mack Dunstan is leaving life as a movie star who will always be remembered for major roles in the cinema (The Ten Commandments, Planet of the Apes, Ben-Hur, Soylent Green, etc) but has not been a good man: his activities have included heading the NRA (National Rifle Association) and his pro-gun policies were responsible for many needless deaths – as he discovers when Virgil (70 BC – 19 BC), the classical Roman poet, acts as his guide. As he descends into the sulfuric flames and burning lakes he encounters the victims of his ‘hobby’ (a fact that suggests that these victims were primarily black or latino and poor ).
But Collins also takes this opportunity to insert humor into the novel and this comes through encountering some incongruous fellow travelers in Hades – people including Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Jack the Ripper, Hugh Heffner, Larry Flynt, Jimmy Swaggert, Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, Marlena Dietrich, Barbra Streisand and on and on.
It doesn’t take much detective work to unveil the true ‘Mack Dunstan’ as at least a takeoff on Charlton Heston. Some readers may have a problem with that – and with other co-habitants on the various circles of the Inferno. But this is freedom of speech at its best. As in any parody it is the truths that surface that makes a book of this nature powerful, Paul Collins has convictions and he has a legion of gun control advocates covering his back. This is a sample of where literature should be taking us right now – now that the media is more focused on entertainment topics than matters that matter.