Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Undead and Unwed (Undead #1) by MaryJanice Davidson

When some people have a bad week, they really have a bad week.  In the case of former model and now executive secretary Betsy Taylor, being laid off is actually the bottom of her list of concerns.  When Betsy is run over by a car and wakes up in a morgue, she immediately believes that she somehow missed the bright light.  After trying to kill herself  in several different ways and talking to clergy about the state of her soul, Betsy decides to try and pick up the pieces of her life.  Unfortunately for Betsy, this means getting involved in vampire politics and dealing with telling her family that she's actually not dead.  What's a girl to do when she finds herself jobless, dead and without her precious designer shoes? Luckily for Betsy, it turns out she a vampire queen and so perhaps her death might be more interesting than the life she left behind.

Betsy Taylor is easily one of the most unlikable protagonists that I have discovered recently.  Betsy is shallow, with no impulse control, collects marginalized people as BFF's and has a little problem with Kellie Independence.  Originally, Betsy wants to stay far away from vampire politics, convinced that she has to worry about getting a job and finding regular people to feed from. Even when she learns that Nostradamus, the ancient vampire who has been responsible for several massacres might possibly be gearing up for yet another power grab, thus endangering vulnerable humans, Betsy simply wants no part of it.  What finally pushes her over the edge is a bribe of designer shoes.  Really?  I'm supposed to root for this person?

Even if I could get over that, the fact that Betsy's favorite movie is Gone With the freaking Wind, her justification for the book and film are something I simply could not embrace.  Betsy absolutely refuses to acknowledge that this nasty plantation story is not some wonderful antebellum romance but actually a glorification of White supremacy and slavery, even when told so directly by a character of colour.  That little factoid almost made me slam the book closed.
"It's a book that glorifies white people at the expense of blacks."

"The vain white people who ended up alone and unhappy, or the white people who got the shit kicked out of them by the Union Army? Or the white people who starved to death during Reconstruction? Or-"

"All right."

"You know, for somebody who could buy London. you're awfully touchy about slavery.  I mean, no one in your family was ever a slave."

She sniffed. "You can never know my pain."

"The pain of being the first kid on the block to have her own Patek Philippe watch? You poor oppressed creature."

She giggled. "Thank God you understand.  This is of course, why I tolerate your bigotry and snobbishness." (pg 178-179)
Seriously WTF?  Who argues that a black person who has never been enslaved is overly touchy about slavery?  This is supposed to be funny but instead I found it to be horribly racist.  Defending the racist Gone With The Wind, is one thing but absolutely ignoring the connection between slaves and the lives of modern African-American is simply beyond the pale.

I suppose this moves us onto marginalized characters.  Jessica is an extremely wealthy Black woman who has been BFF's with Betsy since they were children.  Yes, this puts her straight into the sidekick category, a label which Jessica actively identifies as. Jessica buys Betsy's home, thus providing Betsy with a place to live after her untimely death and is more than willing to support Betsy for the rest of her life.  Jessica's characterisation is  so absolutely problematic that it makes me wonder if Davidson has interacted with a WOC at anytime or just believes that she can write our experiences from watching some crappy television portrayals.  Davidson actually has Jessica call Betsy's father, "honky". It's clear that Davison simply planned on making Jessica a female George Jefferson with her her own Moving on Up theme song except in this version, Jessica is there to see to every conceivable need that Betsy has.

If only Betsy's interactions with Jessica were the sum total of Betsy's interactions with women of colour but I suppose, in for a penny, in for a pound.  The first time Betsy sees Mitzi, Mitzi is having sex with Sinclair ( Betsy's love interest) and allowing him to feed off of her. Betsy asks Mitizi where the bathroom is and Mitzi lets her have it.
Her nostrils flared, Since she had a - shall we say - heroic nose, the effect was startling. I nearly took a step back.  When she spoke, her voice was surprisingly deep and throaty.  "Oh so because I'm a sister I know where the kitchen is?"

"I thought - "

"You thought because I'm a black woman in my bathroom at eight o'clock at night, I must be kitchen help?  Because you've got that all wrong.  For your information, I don't know a frying pan from my own ass."

"Er - I'm sorry to hear that?"

"I'm not the help, I'm the boss's right-hand lady, and I know you know that shit because I know you watched us and got your jollies."

I was flabbergasted.  I don't think I'd ever been accused of prejudice before.  I mean everybody who knows me knows Jessica's my best friend.  And anybody who knows Jessica knows she's smarter, prettier, thinner, and richer than I am.  There's just no comparison.  If anything, I tended to assume blacks ("Never African Americans," Jessica had schooled me.  "Shit my grandparents were from Jamaica.") were smarter and more successful than I was because the ones I knew were. (163-163)
Do you see what happened there?  First, Mitzi the Black woman has a big nose - so large that it is shocking when she flares her nostrils.  If that isn't a racialized description of Black features, I don't know what is. Naturally, Jessica cannot be racist because she has a black best friend.  Everyone knows that having one black friend gives you a lifetime pass on all racist actions.  Then there's the characterization of Mitzi being a sapphire juxtaposed to Betsy's situational calm politeness.  Here's the thing, being thought of as the "help," regardless of what one is wearing, is a normal commonplace occurrence for a WOC.  Mitzi, despite her abruptness, is not outline though she is very much portrayed as the uppity Black lady who needs to be taken down a peg.  Thanks for that Davidson. Finally, what makes a white lady think that she gets to announce whether we are called Blacks or African-Americans?  Just the absolute never of this author is galling.

If you're going to have a Black BFF, why not pair it with another popular token like the Gay BFF?  Betsy first meet Marc when she finds him standing on top of a roof considering suicide.  Betsy comes racing to the rescue and manages to talk him out of killing himself.  Marc is a doctor who is sick of kids dying, is in debt from med school, dealing with a father who has cancer, has General Anxiety Disorder, hasn't had sex in two months and is gay.  The aforementioned, pretty much sums up the characterisation of Marc, excluding however the over excited utterances whenever Sinclair is around.  After allowing Betsy to feed off him once, Marc quickly moves into Betsy's home and it becomes apparent that he is more than willing to sacrifice himself on her behalf.  This is weird because Betsy's vampire mojo apparently shouldn't have worked on Marc because he is not attracted to women.

Davidson apparently believes in equal opportunity GLBT inclusion and thus we move onto the character Tina, a Black lesbian vampire.  Tina naturally worships Betsy and even risks her own life to save Betsy's after knowing the woman a N.Y. minute.Tina does take care to point out that "vampires have to adjust to many things ... and quite a few of us find that after death we are - ah - flexible"  That's right, woo woo creates bisexuality.  After pursuing a kiss and being rejected, Tina's reaction is to fall to her knees and kiss Betsy's feet in apology.

All of that is bad enough but then when you add that Tina has intercourse with Nick so that he can regain his sanity on Betsy's it makes her the ultimate servant.  Betsy gets to feed of Nick because she doesn't want to have sex with him and then Tina takes a pounding for the team, quite literally.
It occurred to me that a woman who didn't choose to couple with men was taking a pounding on my behalf, and didn't even have the pleasure of the drink.  Which I had, like the selfish cow I was.

"It's just ... I hadn't thought he'd be so rough! So - so brutal and mindless.  Of course, he'd tried to be like that with me, but I'd given it right back to him and besides, I liked me.  But Tina-

Nick seized her by the thighs and wrenched her further apart; she cried out before she could lock it back. (pg 149)
Betsy is such a princess that she has two women who are more than happy to serve her.  Oh isn't that fitting for a queen?  The one woman who doesn't make Betsy a priority is her evil step mother.  I had to pause to wonder if I was reading Cinderella or Snow White.  Really? An evil stepmother?  Ant is described as a gold digging self involved jezebel who stole Betsy's father away from her mother.  At no time did Betsy bother to blame her father for his weakness, lechery, and cowardice.  We are told repeatedly about Ant's gold digging ways and I fail to see the real difference between Betsy and Ant in that regard.  Betsy after all did agree to engage in a small vampire war for designer shoes.  At least the interactions with Ant did supply some humour to this trainwreck.  I love that Betsy tossed Ant's jewelery in the blender for retribution.  I also loved the Ant dressed Betsy in knock off shoes and an ugly suit for her funeral.

Undead and Unwed is obviously chicklit and what would paranormal chicklit be without a stunning love interest?
Sinclair was huge - big, broad shoulders, powerful arms and legs - well over six feet, easily two hundred pounds, and not a scrap of flab on him.  I should have expected - err- other parts of him to be - uhh - larger than average.  All the same, I couldn't help being shocked. (130 -131)
For the majority of Undead and Unwed, I found myself wondering how Sinclair simply didn't loose his patience at Betsy.  For much of the book, Betsy is more than happy to live in ignorance despite learning that she poses a danger to others.  Because Betsy is just plain rude, easily distracted and let's be honest vapid, she absolutely has to be the super special chosen one to explain his unfathomable attraction to her.  As it is, I still think that Sinclair deserves a medal.

Undead and Unwed is paranormal chicklit and therefore meant to be light, fun and engaging.  I must admit that there are parts of this novel that had me laughing out loud but they were largely overshadowed by the absolutely epic amount of fail that Davidson manages to include in  226 pages.  It's clear to me that Davidson, at least at the time this book had been written, had no personal interactions with marginalized people.  Her characters are nothing more than a collection of tropes attempting occasionally to say progressive things but largely failing at every attempt.  It quickly became tiresome, sucking much of the joy out of this book.. If you plan on reading this book, I suggest getting a paper copy so that inevitably when you feel compelled to throw Undead and Unwed against a wall in disgust, you won't damage a tablet, phone or ereader.