The name of the story, ‘Dumpster,’ might provide some insight to the readers as to what it entails. However, the dumpster is just the surface value answer to the questions explored by Ben Stoltzfus. The book is filled with satirical comments in instances that can’t even be thought of generally. As soon as Reverend Newell appears on the pages in the story, we know one or the other references to religion are in order. On many instances, the author has reflected an image of how religion has become more of a creation from social factors than the act of God. We are aware that humans thrive in community and are social beings by nature. Ben has tried to explore this concept through the lenses of politics other than religion.
As the story starts, a common setting of a dumpster truck moving along and accomplishing its job is introduced to the audience. As mentioned in the first few pages through Peter Newell’s character, ‘the dumpster’ is not just a literal tool for dumping waste materials, just like garbage does not just refer to trash. He compared the waste or garbage to the ‘sins’ that individuals commit and not cleaning these sins on time, leading to contamination. Though it seems to be an impractical method to work as a community, create a dystopian society, commit a mistake, and repent for it. If such a practice is followed, it becomes a vicious pattern with no return and lack of consciousness.
The first half focuses on the unprecedented and unusual combination of people living in the city of Loviers. The author mentions how the city is a single unit and functions as such. There are disagreements to be seen, but never a scene of bickering. It emphasizes how everyone is united by the same goal of the salvation of the Loviers city. The book simultaneously brings forward the writer’s perspective of how people look towards groups to avoid alienation that has been created due to the fast-moving world. People find comfort in becoming a part of something greater to not lose their identity and, in a sense, fade away.
A scenario of antithesis is created while moving ahead with the story. The sudden shift in the condition of the city, or as referred to by Nora, one of the characters, ‘an omen,’ makes the readers realize how the condition might not have been as promising as it seemed in the start. Cameron Grace, a one-time cover girl, while handling the poetry competition, notices the animosity in the hearts of people regarding various issues. She finds herself in shock while listening to their thoughts on sensitive matters like racism and misogyny. Ben Stoltzfus here centers around the various mistreated groups of society like women, homeless people, etc., who are represented by different figures throughout the story. Independence is reiterated as a characteristic of both the mentioned groups as a source of suffering. Where women are brought to light through Cameron and Jasmine, and in a sense, even through the Virgin Mary, the homeless are shown to be of this nature through Rudy’s behavior.
The author sneakily mentions the sense of contentment in the hearts of the people of Loviers regarding their societal condition. It is laughable how contrasting their reactions come out to be in times of mere distress. An example can be taken of the situation when the population of crows increases, and rather than seeing it as a circumstance of nature gone awry, they come up with bizarre solutions. This puts a stamp on their selective idea of community, taking us back to CG’s understanding of groups being temporary. She believes that it is not the creation of a group that is difficult, but making sure the foundation is correct (states the example of the Nazi unity).
When readers waver through these transitions in the book, they get a taste of the author’s prominent humor. It is mostly religion that is at the brunt of this. A scene of unparalleled essence occurs in the city when an image of the Virgin Mary is found on a tree in such a manner that makes it look essentially realistic, with sap dropping onto its face as if it is a tear. The Catholics are quick to advocate for their belief being the true one, claiming there to be no possible retort from the Protestants’ side now when a sign has come to them in divine form. The way the author henceforth mentions the ‘Trinity Concept’ being discussed by two drunk men reflects the unrealistic nature of it all. Yet a whole city shows no doubt in believing it. It is also ironical how the people in the town expect the Virgin to be a source of re-energizing the whole of America for the twenty-first century when these people did not shy away from exploiting the ‘religious figure’ even on the front cover of Playboy. The most disturbing part is how business was made from the religious sentiments of people. Whether it be the flourishing tourism or the tickets to see the Virgin Mary, it never merely remained about the authenticity of the faith.
The most blatant irony of the book comes into play when the whole country is referring to Jasmine, who wrote about the findings, as the ‘Virgin Mary’s depiction’ when she had just lost her virginity to Rudy before this whole fiasco. Her unexpected pregnancy, in a way, carries forth this image of her connection to the mother of Jesus. Humor gets further reflected in Ben’s story where the city decides to install razor wire atop the chain-link fence to stop the Virgin from disappearing. Even Leila’s prank on the people turns into a joke when they mistake her for Jasmine and believe that she, in reality, has been conveyed a divine message.
Towards the end, we see how the line ‘Art can be an antidote to chaos’ comes to life with Jasmine preparing an intricate sculpture as a form of remembering Rudy. This reflects that art provides solace even to the ache of death.
It completes a full circle when Ben, in the end, compares the city to a dumpster and believes it to have turned into one. Cameron’s statement of ‘Only time will tell’ comes true in the sense of how the condition of Loviers City changes to be. This conveys an unavoidable message of how the city holds a mirror to the future ahead. No matter what might transgress, it is impossible to run away from the growing interconnectedness of the world, hence shared problems.
“Dumpster, for God’s Sake” by Ben Stoltzfus is a thought-provoking and satirical exploration of politics, religion, and human collectiveness. With its witty humor and clever commentary, this book offers an engaging and insightful reading experience. Available now on Amazon.
Also Read: Transgression by Ben Stoltzfus: Book Review