Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gil's All Fright Diner By A. Lee Martinez

Duke, who is a werewolf and Earl, who is a vampire -- are travelling together -- when their old truck runs out of gas, in the small southern town of Rockwood, just outside of Gil's All Night Diner.  When they enter Loretta the proprietor and waitress questions them about whether they saw anything weird, but they simply shake their heads.  Duke empties the last of his change asking how much food this will buy him.   When the food finally arrives, Duke begins to eat but his meal is interrupted when zombies break through the restaurant door forcing Duke and Earl to fight them off.

Loretta is upset that once again the  zombies have broken her door and that she is forced to pay for their disposal.  It seems that for the last few weeks, zombies have been making themselves a menace and scaring off customers. Loretta decides to hire Duke and Earl to get rid of he zombies and lay a gasline in the restaurant.

Duke decides that he will handle the gas line and he sends Earl off to deal with the zombies.  When he gets to the graveyard he meets Cathy the guardian.  The last person buried in a cemetery is always forced to guard it and this frees the other ghosts to either wander the earth or go into the hereafter.  Cathy is super excited to see Earl because he can see her, and this means that she has someone to talk to.  Earl is not at all comfortable talking to Cathy at first and her request for a handshake particularly bothers him, because he does not like touching ghosts.

What Duke and Earl do not realize is that they have stumbled into a larger problem than simply zombies rising out of their graves.  Gil's All Night Diner, is located at a gateway which has the potential to release the old Gods into the world.   Tammy who is Asian and is only in Rockwood because her parents adopted her has been busy practising the dark arts. When she is performing magic she demands to be called Mistress Lillith by solitary follower Chad.  Tammy's goal is to get Loretta to give up the diner so that she can open the portal but unfortunately, Chad, while helpful at times, seems to be more interested in getting into her pants.

Gil's All Fright Diner is a very strange book.  In many ways, it reminds of A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore. It feels like a weird B movie.  Earl has the ability to shape shift into werewolves, mist and a bat. He cannot be killed by a stake through the heart but he does need blood to survive.  The fact that Earl and Duke are actually friends, flies in the face of the standard werewolf/vampire animosity that is so common in urban fantasy.  Earl is a touch self loathing but not because he hates being a vampire but because he believes that people aren't actually attracted to him, just his vampire nature. It has been customary for vampires to be stunningly beautiful, emo, or extremely evil, and Earl is none of these things.  Duke is large, as you would expect a werewolf to be, but his size is attributed to his fat.  Have you ever heard of a fat werewolf?  Duke is a heavy drinker and extremely plain spoken.  What more, both Earl and Duke are poor.

Fat is something that Martinez describes in a negative fashion.  There is never a description of Loretta that does not specifically remind the reader that she is fat.  We learn about her large breasts and extremely big rolls.  She is specifically constructed as unattractive and when Loretta does try to seduce Duke he declines her offer because he is not drunk enough to sleep with her. Duke actually laments that the only women who are willing to sleep with him, all weigh over 200 pounds.  In contrast, Tammy who is young, pretty and extremely shapely is attracted to Duke and spends quite a bit of time trying to seduce him.  He rejects her offer because of her age and laments that he is not able to have sex with her.  In many ways this suggests that fat women are not only not attractive but fail to perform womanhood because of their inability to conform to a very narrow norm.

Tammy is the only character of colour in the story. She behaves coquettishly to get her will though she has access to a great degree of power.  A woman using her body and sexuality in order to get her way is a very common theme in media but it does not make it any less annoying.  Tammy actually shifts back and forth between a delicate lotus flower stereotype and the much hated dragon lady as the situation demands.  This may not have been such a problem had Martinez bothered to add more characters of colour to his story.   It felt very much like Tammy was the token evil.  It is also worth noting that Rockwood has no GLBT characters and no disabled characters.  In a world in which there are zombie cows, ghost dogs and gremlins, I see no reason why Martinez could not have been more inclusive.

Gil's All Night Diner is an extremely short read, coming in at 188 pages. I wouldn't describe it as a page turner, but it's not a boring read either.  It's more like a throwback to the old black and white Hollywood monster movies than anything else.  The relationship between Earl and Cathy is very sweet, though the speed at which it develops into love is highly unrealistic.  The relationship between Earl and Duke falls into the typical portrayal of male friendships.  They care for each other, but are incapable of expressing this to each other.  They depend on each other as well, but seem to spend more time bickering like an old married couple.  There is never any physical contact between Earl and Duke.  There are gaps in this story but considering the length, it's hardly surprising.  If you pick up this book, expecting a throwback story, without massive twists or turns, you won't be disappointed.