cover image The Infernal

The Infernal

Mark Doten. Graywolf, $18 trade paper (440p) ISBN 978-1-55597-701-6

In Doten’s artfully deranged debut novel, the “war on terror” is revisited as a feverish science-fiction odyssey starring disfigured versions of Osama bin Laden, Condoleezza Rice, and Mark Zuckerberg. In a desert in the Middle East, a possibly divine child with burned flesh sets a kaleidoscopic series of monologues in motion. “The traitor” Jimmy Wales is sent, as part of an amorphous conspiracy, to extract the boy using the Omnosyne, a destructive machine consisting of pure information. Bin Laden leads his “Blood Youths” in an increasingly bizarre series of experiments determined to unravel the boy’s secrets. Adopted siblings Rice and L. Paul Bremer long for each other within the reaches of the sprawling American-occupied Green Zone. Roger Ailes rants about turtles. Folded into these transmissions is Zuckerberg and Nathan Myhrvold’s Nintendo-esque struggle for “the cones of power,” the vaudevillian misadventures of two survivors of a drone strike, and, most significantly, the poignant story of an American soldier missing a leg. Doten frames his post-historic “memory index” in virtuosic, antic prose, but his goal is neither purely satire nor surrealism for its own sake. Rather, his novel constructs a new language to confront atrocity and becomes in the bargain a story that truly thinks outside the cage. (Feb.)