Review: “Refuge in Hell”

“While studying theology as a Jesuit scholastic, I was blessed to have James Keenan, S.J., as a teacher. Father Keenan taught that sin in the Gospels is always about not bothering to love. The clearest example of this is found in Matthew 25, where Jesus says those who never bothered to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick or visit the imprisoned are condemned to hell for their indifference to human suffering.

“Perhaps nowhere in our contemporary culture in the United States is the contrast between Christian love and hellish indifference more stark than in our prison system. In Refuge in Hell, the Rev. Ronald Lemmert, a prison chaplain, offers us a glimpse of the price one pays to follow the Gospel of Christ, taking the reader on a Dante-esque journey through the circles of hell in a modern-day ‘Inferno,’ Sing Sing Correctional Facility.” […]    –George Williams, America Magazine, November 16, 2018

Review of “Caroline’s Bikini”: a Modern-Day Mash-Up of Dante, Milton and Metafiction

“Writing a book review about a novel that is about a book reviewer writing a novel, and that references the act of novel writing, often in footnotes, is the self-reflexive task of appraising Kirsty Gunn’s latest offering. A modern-day mash-up of Milton, metafiction and Dante, and of Renaissance swooning in Richmond, Caroline’s Bikini questions myth and reality through an exploration of the nature of fiction and the projection of love.

“Courtly love is the fabric on which this modern story is sewn. The book includes sections of Il Canzoniere, a sonnet sequence written by Petrarch after having fallen in love with a 14-year-old girl exiting a church. The 14th-century poet wrote yearningly about her for a period of 40 years without ever meeting her.” […]    –Rebecca Swirsky, New Statesman, June 27, 2018

Vinson Cunningham, “How the Idea of Hell Has Shaped the Way We Think”

“The  great poetic example of the blurriness between the everyday and the ever after is Dante’s Inferno, which begins with the narrator ‘midway upon the journey of our life,’ having wandered away from the life of God and into a ‘forest dark.’ That wood, full of untamed animals and fears set loose, leads the unwitting pilgrim to Virgil, who acts as his guide through the ensuing ordeal, and whose Aeneid, itself a recapitulation of the Odyssey, acts as a pagan forerunner to the Inferno. This first canto of the poem, regrettably absent from the Book of Hell, reads as a kind of psychological-metaphysical map, marking the strange route along which one person’s private trouble leads both outward and downward, toward the trouble of the rest of the world.

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“Insecurity is a tomb; these are the kinds of midlife crises from which few people recover. ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’ is as applicable to certain poisonous habits of mind as to the gates of Hell. One leads, inexorably, to the other.” — Vinson Cunningham, “How the Idea of Hell Has Shaped the Way We Think,” Review of The Penguin Book of Hell in The New Yorker (January 21, 2019)