Friday, March 20, 2015

Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez

Divine Misfortune is set in an alternate world where Gods make deals with humans;  in exchange for tribute, Gods provide humans the benefits of their area of specialty.  Phil and Terri live an average middle class existence but never really manage to move up the corporate ladder because unlike their coworkers, neither Phil or Terri have welcomed a God into their life.  When Phil is passed up for promotion yet again and his neighbour's lawn suddenly becomes perfect with the help of Demeter, Phil decides that it's time for him and Terri to pick a God.  With the multiple of Gods in human history -- this is not an easy task -- particularly when you have to pass a credit check to even look at Zeus's profile and Tyr demands the removal of a hand as proof of devotion.  After looking through the Gods on, Phil and Terri settle on Luka, the God of prosperity and good fortune.  Unlike the other Gods, Luka doesn't seem overly demanding and a safe bet to the risk adverse Terri and Phil but what they forgot, is that dealing with the divine is never as simple as it first seems.

Before they know it, Terri and Phil find themselves in the middle of a holy war between their personal deity Luka and Gorgoz "the ultimate embodiment of the chaos that birth the universe." And what are the two Gods fighting over? Well, a goddess of course.  There's nothing like a love triangle to keep immortality interesting.  If that isn't enough, Luka, who loves his Hawaiian shirts, decides to summarily move in and bring his friend Quetzalcoatl along for the ride. Getting though a typical day is hard enough but when you're dealing with God engaged in a holy war, a South American God filled with guilt for not dealing with the conquistadors, and a Goddess of love, now turned into the   Goddess of tragedy because centuries later, she's still not over being dumped, life can become complicated quickly.

You can probably tell from the description that there is a lot going on in Divine Misfortune, yet despite the twists and turns and the appearance of various Gods from assorted pantheons, the story never once feels confused.  Divine Misfortune is also infused with Martinez's great sense of humor and this makes the book at times laugh out loud funny.  After all, who wouldn't want to offer tribute to a God for some luck when informed that the in laws are coming for a visit, along with their multitude of children, particularly when one of the kids is going through a pyromaniac stage? With incidents like having an entire city's water supply being turned into grape soda as the result of an epic God showdown, all the world's pregnant dogs giving birth at once to winged puppies, Zeus and Mog giving out signed autographed photos and the Goddess of revenge giving boils to spurned lovers, Divine Misfortune is written to make you giggle, then laugh out loud until you have tears rolling down your face.  

In terms of gender, Divine Misfortune had three very strong characters female characters but Terri was by far my favourite, Terri, was so feminist, she refused to be saved by a man.  When Phil, Terri and  Bonnie, (who is forced to deal with the result of unwittingly becoming Syph, the goddess of tragedy number one sycophant), are confronted by gun men, who want to kill them as a tribute to Gorgoz, Phil decides to offer his life in trade for the two women.  Terri however is not at all impressed.
Phil stood and stepped between Eugene and his wife. “Kill me. But don’t shoot the women.”

“That’s some misogynistic bullshit.” Teri pushed him aside. “Kill me but let them go.”

“This isn’t a good time for feminism,” he replied.

“Says you.” She turned her eyes away from the guns trained on them. “You know how I feel about women and children first. It puts women in the same category as children. And I am not a child.”

“I wasn’t saying that. I was just trying to be noble.”

“Because it’s the man’s job to be noble,” she said, “and the woman’s job to—”

“Dammit, this is not the time to be having this discussion!”

Bonnie stood. “Shoot me. I’m the one who is going to die anyway. Might as well get it out of the way.”

“Excuse me,” said Eugene. “But this is an assassination, not a negotiation. You’re all going to get shot. There’s no way around that.”     

“Although, for the record, miss,” said Rick, “I agree with you that it’s chauvinistic nonsense." (pg117) 
When Phil later decides to trade himself Gorgoz to keep Terri safe, does not at all see the gesture as loving and supportive.

“He took the deal,” said Teri, mumbling into the sofa cushions. “That goddamn moron took Gorgoz’s deal. I should’ve known.”  She rolled over and stared at the ceiling. “He always was a sexist bastard, opening doors and paying for dates. That should’ve been my first clue. I bet he couldn’t wait to do his alpha male protector bit when he finally had the chance. What does he think I am? A helpless princess who can’t fend for herself? It’s insulting.”  (pg 169)
Terri may feel guilt about selling out on her anti-God stance from her rebellious youth but she takes her feminism seriously and is not about to wait around to be saved by a man.

Then there's Syph, who simply cannot get over getting dumped.  For the sake of clarity, stalking is not funny but when it's a former love Goddess, stalking her raccoon headed former lover at the beach of eternity, it's hard not to giggle.  Then there's the fact that Syph randomly spoils milk, turns hot coffee to ice and makes fries soggy. I like that she manages with a little bit of help (read: a good swift kick in the ass) to find a way to regain her power in a proactive way.  Sure, she's no longer the goddess of love but at least she ends up spreading the grief around.

Unfortunately, for all of the wonderful and sometimes downright epic moments in Divine Misfortune, it's heavily erased.  The only references we have to POC are through their Gods randomly showing up and other than Quetzalcoatl, a former God of Indigenous South Americans, they play a decidedly small role. Sure a part of me loves the idea of Coyote putting a curse on all the lawns in Terri and Phil's neighbourhood "for the injustices the Native Americans had suffered at the hands of the Europeans," but it's certainly not enough.  Phil does however admit that having Indigenous Americans getting small pox in exchange for some yellow grass is a light punishment for stealing a small continent.  It still feels very much like the near genocide and destruction of various cultures, and loss of languages is being treated lightly.  

Martinez does have Quetzalcoatl experience guilt for turning his back on his people because he didn't think the loss of a few thousand worshipers was important.  The problem with this is that it once again cheapens exactly what happened during colonization.  Feeling a little guilt cannot possibly express the horror of what happened.  At times, Quetzalcoatl even seems more concerned about his loss of power and relevance; clearly he didn't learn a lesson.

GLBT people face the same sort of erasure in this book as POC do.  In fact, there is only one reference in 210 pages.

Though the women were scantily clad and well-proportioned, they weren’t really human enough to instill thoughts of lust in Phil.  Their claws and hungry eyes didn’t help. And Gorgoz, leering like a twisted old man at a peep show, really killed the mood.

Gorgoz frowned. “What’s wrong, Phil? Don’t tell me you don’t like girls?” He leaned forward. “You’re not… like we used to  say in the… of a Spartan persuasion?”  

Phil shook his head as much as he dared. He feared if he moved too suddenly one of the demon concubines would slit his throat  by instinct. 

 “Well, you must want something,” said Gorgoz. “Some twisted delight that you’ve never dared speak about. (page 181)
That's not representation and it's most certainly not inclusion.   With all that Martinez had going on in Divine Intervention, I don't see why she couldn't have managed more than one vague reference to GLBT people, particularly when many Gods in various pantheons are bisexual or gender variant. This entire story is fantastical and yet somehow proper inclusion was too much?  Yeah, I call bullshit on the erasure.

Okay, I have given you the good and the bad with Divine Intervention.  On the plus side, it's hilariously funny, great when it comes to gender, and gives a different look at the Gods we have become familiar with.  Sure, Thor showed up with Mjölnir but it turns out that he wasn't the only one to wield it.  Then there is Bladr hooking up Lucky with nose bleed seats to a tournament of carnage in Valhalla  which is run by Óðinn, in order make money.  Martinez used the Gods in ways that don't often appear in fiction and this irreverent look was both fun and fascinating.  If you are a mythology geek, this will most certainly catch your attention.

On the negative side, Divine Intervention was heavily erased and in terms of POC, tended to minimize the historical violence faced by marginalized people.  I really felt that this could have been treated better.  I am glad that the genocide was not erased; however, I don't think that treating genocide as occurring  because a God decided to turn its back is at all respectful.

If you're looking to while away the afternoon and are a bit of a mythology geek, this might just be the book for you.  Martinez is steadily turning me into a fan, despite a rough start with Gil's All Fright Diner.  I have learned to expect the unexpected from her work and that alone makes the journey interesting.