In Italy they’re celebrating seven centuries of Dante ⎯ The Divine Comedy was finished in 1321, also the year Dante died ⎯ but I doubt anyone there has whipped up a carnival so wild as Dinty Moore’s. Long a champion of creative non-fiction, in this text he delivers what might be called “multi-media creative.” To Hell With It tosses together Moore’s hand-drawn cartoons and his old family photos, it toys with his Catholic-school catechism and meanders with him through the Midwestern flea markets, and the whole way, whatever the ostensible subject, it works canto by canto through Dante’s formidable opener to the Comedy, the Inferno.
Some scholars award the poem a capital, “the Poem,” but Moore knocks the earlier text off its pedestal. His rhetoric is playful but straightforward, just-folks, and a key passage suggests a simpler term for Dante’s endless torment: “the Hole, an empty space inside our psyches, one that proves unfillable for so many of us.” Devouring need like that is this book’s core subject, in effect a psychological reading of the Inferno⎯ though one that’s averse to psychobabble, as much as to the harsh logic of St. Augustine. That thinker is wittily cited, since Dante followed his strictures when consigning folks to eternal fire, though To Hell would’ve benefited from acknowledging something else, namely, the poetry in the Poem. The work has lasted this long not for its philosophy but for its imagination.
By and large, however, Moore brings off his new imaginative interpretation, one that finds unexpected expression for the value of knowing and forgiving oneself. Kudos especially for his takedown of that bestselling hogwash from 2010, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, which unlike the Comedy claimed to be non-fiction, depicting the actual Afterlife. Moore’s evisceration takes the form of footnotes which overwhelm the text, a favorite trick of David Foster Wallace, and he does all right even in such company.
To Hell With It: Of Sin and Sex, Chicken Wings, and Dante’s Entirely Ridiculous, Needlessly Guilt-Inducing Inferno
by Dinty W. Moore
University of Nebraska Press, 168 p.
John Domini’s memoir, The Archeology of a Good Ragù, will appear this May.