BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A young couple decides to worship Lucky, the raccoon god of prosperity, only to find that Lucky brings with him a whole lot of misfortune.
PROS: Interesting premise; lighthearted tone; writing style makes for swift reading; humorous without trying too hard to be funny.
CONS: This is probably nitpicking, but there were some missed opportunities for humor through character dialogue.
BOTTOM LINE: A fun read overall with several laugh-out-loud moments.
Books aiming to be humorous are vulnerable to several potential pitfalls. The humor can fall flat, it can feel forced, or it can derail the book into the realm of unintentional absurdity. It’s a delicate balance that’s not easy to achieve, but A. Lee Martinez’s latest book, Divine Misfortune, pulls it off with skillful grace.
Divine Misfortune posits a world where immortal gods are flesh and blood beings walking the Earth with us mere mortals. Nobody is required to worship them, but they are free to do so – a shopping experience conveniently accomplished through an Internet website offering dating-service-like videos of the gods. And it might be worthwhile — particularly if you pick a god that will offer you the most divine favor in exchange for least amount of tribute. Enter Teri and Phil, a young couple who could use a little good fortune. They decide to worship a God named Luka, the god of prosperity who appears in the form of a raccoon. Luka, who prefers to be called Lucky, unexpectedly shows up at Teri’s and Phil’s home, not just to accept tribute, but also because, well, he’s looking for a place to crash.
Given that Divine Misfortune has comedy built directly into its premise, it’s fortunate that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s lighter fare, sometimes charmingly smarmy, that wisely treats gods as human-like beings (as much as omnipotent beings can be considered as such) who are every bit as fallible as we are. The book’s wittiness is derived more from the incongruous circumstances than it is from one-liners (though there are those), and I’m undecided as to whether this is a lost opportunity (could it have been funnier?) or the reason why the humor succeeds (there are several laugh-out-loud moments).
The first act of the book does an excellent job at setting up the scenario: the fact that gods mingle with the rest of us, that they require tribute ranging from the benign to the sacrificial, that they are not perfect, and that aligning yourself with one is not necessarily a free ticket to automatic fortune. Lucky, in particular, is something of the antithesis of any divine expectations you might have. He’s a slacker-god; a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing raccoon who inadvertently brings luck to those around him. It’s not something he can specifically control…it just happens.
With the second act, the story turns a bit from relying on the setup alone. Good call: it keeps the premise from growing stale. Here, Martinez introduces a few new characters who thicken the plot: Teri’s friend Janet, a god groupie who tallies godly encounters by notches on her bed post; Lucky’s friend Quetzalcoatl, a.k.a. Quick, still trying to live down his famously dramatic loss of followers centuries before; the love goddess Syph, whose heartbreak brings everyone down and comes with bad weather as well; and Gorgoz, a cantankerous deity who has an unholy grudge against Lucky and has no problem using Teri and Phil as proxies to exact his vengeance. With these characters come plot elements that make the story meatier including a love triangle, the aforementioned revenge, and incompetent hit-gods out to settle an old score. Combined, these quirky action/comedy/romance elements give the story a new feel, an Elmore Leonard vibe, if you will, and one that’s thoroughly enjoyable.
It should be noted that, although steeped in gods, goddesses and worship, the author steers clear of any deep religious meaning and satirical commentary. Divine Misfortune is a light and wonderful read from start to finish. And a fast one too; the prose makes for easy consumption and elicits a few genuine laughs along the way.