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DANTE'S INDIANA by Randy Boyagoda


by Randy Boyagoda

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-77196-427-2
Publisher: Biblioasis

The second novel of a projected trilogy (after Original Prin, 2018) is a satire set behind the scenes of a Middle American theme park based on The Divine Comedy.

Prin, a Sri Lankan Canadian professor of English and a devout Catholic, finds himself in a personal purgatory: semiestranged from wife and kids, semi-homeless, semi-jobless. Hungry for money and purpose, he accepts an invitation to Terre-Haute, where he lectures handfuls of auditors at community centers and big-box stores on The Divine Comedy. Afterward Prin is recruited as a consultant for Dante's Indiana, a Christian amusement park that's the "retirement project" of a wealthy packaging-company owner named Charlie Tracker; he's also enlisted as an informant by Charlie’s son, Hugh, who's recently taken over the company. One of Prin's innovations is to base the park's central roller coaster on Geryon, the monster who in the Comedy is the very face of fraud. (His visage is that of an innocent man, but his body is part reptile and part hairy beast, with a scorpion's stinging tail.) This goes horrendously awry after a young Black man coincidentally named Garyon is killed by an off-duty police officer. When an employee leaves the park project—they've recently partnered with an evangelical ministry that runs a Kentucky Bible park in which humans and dinosaurs frolic together, a literalism too far—she informs the press that the park's centerpiece will be a black-faced homophonic monster from the jaws of hell, and protests begin. Meanwhile, another controversy brews; Hugh Tracker is trying to save his business by making blister packs for the opioid painkillers that are ravaging the Midwest. The novel's comedy can be overbroad or scattershot, but Boyagoda keeps things moving quickly and imaginatively. He skewers hosts of sinners along the way, but the wit has a winsome empathy behind it.

A rollicking, inventive, mostly successful satire—with a vein of seriousness and sadness underneath.