Sunday, December 23, 2012

Divine Misfortune

Every time I read a book, I want it to amaze me.  Sometimes I truly believe I've only collected the books that are guaranteed to amaze me.  Now, maybe some people are lucky (or delusional) enough to experience that.  Me, I end up with fewer such books and more like Divine Misfortune, which I only hoped would be a revelation.

This was my big experiment with A. Lee Martinez, who I hoped would be my new Douglas Adams.  I love Douglas Adams.  Almost everyone who loves Douglas Adams loved him for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but I love him for Dirk Gently, and more specifically, The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul, which if you need some basis for comparison because you're obviously not at all familiar with it, is very similar to Neil Gaiman's American Gods.  It's one of my all-time favorite books.

Perhaps I set Martinez up to fail?  It seems most of the characters in Divine Misfortune are in similar circumstances.  It's a book in which all the old gods are still around and mortals have streamlined the devotion process by making it pretty much like modern dating.  In fact, exactly like modern dating, online profiles and all.  That's how Phil and Teri hook up with Lucky, raccoon-headed god of prosperity.  Except there's about a thousand things they don't find out right away that end up complicating this relationship.

Big surprise, right?  I do end up admiring Martinez as a writer.  In a lot of ways, he's exactly a writer of my generation.  It's obvious.  It's also obvious that he, too, read a lot of Dave Barry.  (And enjoyed a hearty laugh at his many, many jokes.)

Actually, Divine Misfortune reads a lot like one of Dave's solo fiction efforts, Big Trouble or Tricky Business.  It also reads like one of those cookie cutter narratives that pass for James Patterson books and/or ALL OF POPULAR FICTION.  Seriously, someone has a whole template for this stuff, and writers like Patterson and Martinez, or perhaps their nefarious editors, have taken it to heart.

It's a book that features characters doing stuff, but keeps the reader at a huge distance from these characters, instead believing (and apparently successfully so, because as I said, this is popular fiction) that readers simply experiencing the vicarious woes of said characters is the same as actually writing these characters.

If you're a writer like Dave Barry or Douglas Adams, this is not a problem.  If you're not, then it is.  I'm not saying that Martinez is a bad or uninspired writer, but that he is not what I had hoped.  Earlier this year I also sampled Martin Millar via Lux the Poet, which was much closer to what I'm looking for in this vein.  Martinez was a writer I discovered working in a bookstore, and although he clearly writes the popular fiction style, he's not what you'd call a breakaway success.  I tried promoting him, though I don't know if I ever got very far.  (Because I was always promoting the most obtuse material, I don't think I ever got any traction.)  Now I'm kind of glad.

Again, Martinez is not a bad writer, and Divine Misfortune is not a bad book.  In fact, in a lot of ways, it reads like a book version of those many, many computer animated movies that've been released over the past decade, in the wake of Pixar's massive success.  It could easily be a computer animated movie, and you'd never guess that it was originally a book.  Put a facade of deep meaning into it, and it could even be Pixar.

But at least as far as I've seen for myself, Martinez is no Dave Barry, much less Douglas Adams.  Shame.

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