Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dead Beautiful by Melanie Dugan

Title: Dead Beautiful
Author: Melanie Dugan

Genre: (Fiction / Greek Mythology / Persephone / Hades / Mother-Daughter Relationships / Romantic Relationships)
Publisher/Publication Date: Upstart Press (2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay to liked.
Did I finish?: I did, in about two hours!
One-sentence summary: A multi-voiced look at the relationship between Hades and Persephone.

Do I like the cover?: I don't mind it although given all the emphasis on flowers as the way Hades and Persephone communicate, I'm surprised there isn't a floral element to the cover.

First line: I knew he'd be the death of me.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: I'm not sure -- borrow, I think, if you enjoy mythological-inspired fiction.

Why did I get this book?: I love mythology and retellings inspired by mythology.

Review: This book elicited some pretty strong feelings in me (I can't help it; I'm an all or nothing girl.) At moments, I really enjoyed this book; at moments, I kind of wanted to lob it against the wall. I think my biggest challenge with this book is that I just couldn't tell what it was: a YA novel? A YA spoof? A feminist retelling of a Greek myth? A contemporary re-envisioning of a Greek myth? Not being sure of what the novel was aiming for made it tough for me to evaluate how well Dugan achieved her goal.

Told in various voices, the story articulates the relationship between Hades and Persephone. Everyone has a chance to share their side of the story, and Dugan's angle is to embrace the modern era. Zeus is obsessed with market shares; Hades is balancing his budget so he can improve the underworld. Persephone is a smothered teenager with an overprotective mother who does her best to shield Persephone from Hera's attentions (lest Zeus' wife get into a jealous rage or something like that.).

The novel has a bit of a spoof feel to it, someone exaggerating what teenagers in YA novels sound like. At times, it's a bit funny; at times, a little tiresome. As with so much about this book, I couldn't tell if Dugan was being wryly ironic or just didn't notice what she was doing. More than halfway through the book, Persephone gripes about how all her friends talk about just boys, and clothes and music, and yet, all Persephone has groused about was Hades, other boys, the rest of the Gods, her mother. She was hardly the nuanced conversationalist but she judged her friends for being like her. I couldn't tell if Dugan was being sly here, making a nudge about someone who can't see past her own wangst, or was Dugan so enamored of her character that she didn't notice her creation's flaws?

I'm not a mythologist or ethnographer, so I haven't spent huge amounts of time pondering the philosophical, social, and emotional implications of myths like the Persephone, but I do know there's a great deal of debate about the rape/kidnapping of Persephone. Some feminists have tried to reclaim the tale as one of deliberate choice on the part of Persephone, and I don't mind that. However, Dugan's Persephone was emphatically teenaged and I really just couldn't shake the squick of this teenager (however millenia she's lived, her behavior has made it clear she's not making choices like an adult) with the ambigu-adult Hades. (Who was rather a dreamboat, and he needed an adult woman, not a teen, no matter what Dugan tried to say.)

Reclaiming the Greek pantheon for romantic purposes is hardly new, but Dugan's unique spin was the delightfully meta feel to her story: characters responded to each other in their respective chapters -- when Hades observes something about Zeus, Zeus snaps a comeback -- and popular culture icons like David Beckham as well as other religious icons, like Jesus, are glibly mentioned. Like this riff between Hera and Zeus:
"That's sweet," says Hera in a voice that indicates it's not sweet. "What he's really advocating is the overthrow of the status quo: the first shall be the last and the last shall be the first, or some such, and he's not talking about standing in line for Aristophanes' latest."

"Yeah, well, the system isn't perfect. It needs some adjusting."

"We are the system, you big dolt."
(p74-75)
So, I'm torn: what worked really worked for me, and what didn't work, really didn't work for me. To each their own; there are tons of positive reviews about this one so don't take just my word for it!

14 comments:

  1. You've got me intrigued...

    I wouldn't normally pick a title like this (I wold have judged it by its cover), but now I'd like to pick it up and read it for myself.

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  2. Dangit, I keep forgetting not to log in through my old email address...anyway, also wanted to say that this was a great review. Sometimes I honestly don't know what to make of a book, and as much as I abhor labels, sometimes I need them to be able to determine whether or not I think the author succeeded with his/her goal.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words -- I hate labels too because I think it can limit a reader's response to story but sometimes -- like with this one -- a label or two would have helped temper my expectations. I'd love to know your thoughts if you do give this one a try!

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  3. Nice review. I've read several YAs about Hades and Persephone and none of them have thrilled me. It does seem to me like someone should write it as an adult story.

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    1. Thanks, Jenny! I think this might be an adult fiction (in that it's not necessarily geared for the YA marketing world but certainly, teens could comfortably read this book) -- but I am surprised someone hasn't taken on Hades and Persephone in a darker, 'adult'-y way.

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  4. I love Persephone stories. I don't expect stories from the past to be so good for women (although they occasionally allow for mental outwitting and trickery, which is interesting) but I still like to read about them. Even Leda and the Swan - could be horrible, or could be something else, e.g., as rendered in Yeats' poem. Greek myths are so thought-provoking. So far I have read only one other teenage adaptation of the Persephone myth (Everneath) and it too showed that ambiguity. Of course, it all could be a function of the ongoing appeal of the welcome/sexy rape scenario, which is beyond ick....

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    1. I do really enjoy modern takes on really iffy myths and legends, because I enjoy how folks can turn something scary into an 'ohhhhh' moment for me. And I'm willing to accept a feminist interpretation that allows for Persephone to have decided to go with Hades willingly rather than by force -- but for me, this Persephone felt too childish for me to be comfortable with the romantic relationship. She chose to go with him, but it read to me like a teen eager for a fling with an older man -- we were told over and over by Hades how much he liked her deep thinking etc etc but I never saw that demonstrated, and Persephone's sections read to me very immaturely. But maybe that was intentional -- I can't say. Still, it was a provocative book in that it made me think a great deal about my expectations, etc.

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  5. Ok so this kind of makes me lol and that is a good thing

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  6. Audra, I really enjoyed your take on this one. I hadn't heard of it before, but I am pretty sure that I wouldn't enjoy it based on the analysis you shared here. I think if you can't even be sure of the genre of the story, the odds are that you are not going to be able to enjoy it fully. It sounds kind of strange to me.

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    1. Thanks, Heather -- I had a hard time with this one, and I suppose I might have been too hard on it -- but I wanted to articulate where my frustration(s) came from. I'm surprised at how badly I need the parameters of the novel -- what kind of book it was -- to help me get through it.

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  7. Certainly a different riff on the Greek mythos! I might add this one to my ongoing list of books about Greek mythology. Thanks for the review!

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    1. Stephanie -- I would love to hear your thoughts if you do get to this one!!

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  8. Based on the cover, I would assume this book is not one for me, and as very few of those genres you listed appeal to me, I'll safely avoid reading this one. While I don't want to read the book, I loved your review of this one, and it made me laugh:-)

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  9. I like that quote at the end so maybe the humor would work for me. It definitely sounds fun!

    Thanks for being on the tour Audra.

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