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Hastings High School graduate writes first novel

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There are plenty of easy books in the world to read. Love stories. Tear jerkers. Mysteries.

Mark Doten’s first novel, The Infernal, is not one of them.

Just the reviews of the 1997 Hastings High School graduate’s first book are a delight to read.

First, here’s one line about the book’s subject matter from its publisher, Graywolf Press:

“A fierce, searing response to the chaos of the war on terror — an utterly original and blackly comic debut.”

Now, the reviews:

”Vicious and commanding. . . . Legitimately thrilling inventiveness and wild, dark humor. . . . Doten has created an impressionistic map of the atomized imperial realities of the War on Terror, and it is every bit as harrowing to consider as the inane and bloodthirsty era it depicts.”— The Believer

“A stylish, surreal portrait of a 21st century gone mad. . . . This book is a considerable achievement . . . of nerve, scope and ambition. . . . Doten’s dazzling novel shows off his intellect and facility with language.”— Kirkus Reviews.

“In Doten’s artfully deranged debut novel, the ‘war on terror’ is revisited as a feverish science-fiction odyssey. . . 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.” —Publishers Weekly

“The Infernal is insane. Mark Doten turns his war criminals into the lecherous cartoons they might really be, as if the Warren Report were a drugged-out musical. From now on I want all of my novels this brilliant, this crazily pitched, this original.”—Ben Marcus

The fact that Doten charts his own course with his first novel will likely come as no surprise to his former teachers at Hastings High.

Doten said he loved writing and was on the speech team, too. One year he was on the speech team, he performed what he called a “strange retelling of Hamlet” using a lot of different voices, including a Zombie and with an “accent like Marge the sheriff from (the movie) Fargo.”

“I doubt that it was very good, but it did indicate the direction that this book would take,” Doten said during a phone interview from his office in New York City.

During the day, Doten works as a senior editor at Soho Press. After graduating from HHS, he attended Macalester College, then lived in St. Paul for about three years where he did a number of odd jobs. One job was at a Wells Fargo subprime mortgage office. His job, he said, consisted of him “picking things off the printer and putting them in the right spot.”

By 2004 he had moved to New York City, attending graduate school at Columbia University where he earned an MFA in fiction. It was while he was a student at Columbia 10 years ago that he began work on The Infernal.

Doten became obsessed with politics and political blogs, he said. He was frustrated during the presidency of George W. Bush in the mid-2000s and was not a supporter of the Iraq War. Doten worked on Howard Dean’s campaign as a volunteer and worked at Huffington Post when it launched. All of those experiences had a hand in the writing of The Infernal.

Growing up

Doten is the son of Jim and Margo Doten of Cottage Grove. He grew up near what is now Target in Cottage Grove but attended school in Hastings from the eighth grade on. He remembers his English classes at HHS well, recalling teachers Bill Schultz and Sara Mohn especially well. They exposed him, he said, to a wide range of great literary works that helped grow his interest in writing.

The New York Times

Doten’s novel was reviewed in the New York Times in February by Martin Riker.

The review reads, in part, like this:

“Doten’s debut is the most audaciously imaginative political novel I’ve ever read. It’s also very ‘literary,’ though couched in a sci-fi premise: In an alternate reality, a Christ figure (‘the Akkad boy’) has been attached to an information-extracting machine (‘the Omnosyne’) that will feed his soul (‘information’) into ‘the Cloud.’

“’The Infernal’ takes place at a junction of aesthetics and politics. Doten starts from the essential premise that reality is not inevitable, that the world we have is one we’ve made, which he ferociously disassembles, remakes and feeds back to us as twisted gospels for dark times.”

Signing

Doten will have a book signing in the Twin Cities on April 8 as part of the Literary Death Match. It will be at Nomad World Pub in Minneapolis.

More information can be found at: www.literarydeath match.com/upcoming-events/april-8-at-nomad-world-pub.html.

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