by A. Lee Martinez (2010): ISBN: 9780316041270 (Orbit)
You need a god. Or maybe a goddess. Either way, you need direct intervention in your life by a deific presence of one type or another. Your colleagues get those raises and promotions that they pray and sacrifice for while you toil away with only your own abilities and ideas to aid you. The neighbor’s yard always looks just right after the intercession of their agricultural deity. The world spins beneath you and you simply struggle to hang on without a hand descending from the heavens to give you balance. So you get on the internet, go through the directories and find one that will get you the maximum benefit with the minimum acceptable sacrifice. Few are so gauche as to require blood anymore, though some do like a good sandwich or maybe a fatted calf. So you sign up and voila! You are now a follower of an anthropomorphic (usually) cosmic mover-and-shaker. This delightfully twisted take on the deity/follower relationship is the lynchpin of A. Lee Martinez’s latest novel, Divine Misfortune.
Teri and Phil are your typical young, suburban couple. They’ve been getting by without jumping on the god-bandwagon but want more out of life. Teri’s reluctant at first (after all, what happened to her anti-deity college ideals?), but eventually agrees to sign on. They select Luka (aka “Lucky”), a raccoon god of prosperity. Who, after a very bumpy trial-and-tribulation period of resistance on the part of Teri and Phil, moves into their guest room and throws a block party. Life under the influence of a luck god proves to be pretty nice…but unbeknownst to Lucky’s favorite new followers, old enemies are stirring and plotting revenge against the easy-going icon of prosperity–and are more than willing to enact their vengeance upon his followers.
Divine Misfortune is a delightful and fun book. Fast-paced and funny, but, like Martinez’s other works, infused with an underlying thread of humanity that gives it emotional resonance. The jokes are there and are funny, but the plot isn’t just a set up for a punch line. He takes a premise rife with the potential for humor, mines it for its choice nuggets of fun, but also tells a story about human nature; much like mythology and its stories of flawed gods and goddesses on which he draws. Further, while quirky and humorous, his villains truly are evil and bring actual menace to bear on the conflict. He consistently walks a tightrope, dipping to the left and then to right on occasion, but ultimately not needing the net.
The characterizations of the novel really make it shine. Both the divine characters (especially Lucky and Quick) and the mundane ones (Bonnie and Janet) are well-drawn and engaging. The only exception, ironically enough, are the characterizations of Teri and Phil. While they are great foils to the zany menagerie of gods, demigods, and just-plain-odd folks that careen in and out of their house during the adventure, the central couple’s portrayal feels a bit flat. Perhaps because they’re such great straight men, they simply don’t sparkle as brightly as some of the other players.
Despite this small quibble (and it is small), make no mistake: this book is fun, fast, and funny. This is mythology ala Douglas Adams or Robert Asprin, not Edith Hamilton or Joseph Campbell. It’s funny because it’s true—even if there is a winged-serpent-sun-god called Quick (formerly Quetzalcoatl ) watching Oprah on the couch.
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