Friday, January 9, 2009

When behaving badly makes you feel so goodly

Normally, I don’t go for anything titled “_____ Behaving Badly.”

That includes the British sitcom “Men Behaving Badly,” its US version starring Rob Schneider or the hidden-camera comedy “Girls Behaving Badly,” which proved women can make lame hidden-camera comedies also.

However, I gave “Gods Behaving Badly” a shot; and, I have to admit, it’s sacrilicious.

The story, written by Marie Phillips, proposes a simple question. What would happen if the Greek pantheon existed now and lived a dingy, hermetic lifestyle in London?

Apollo would work as a lousy TV psychic and pine for the days when he had legions of groupie priestesses; Aphrodite would be a phone-sex operator who argues with her converted Christian son, Eros, and Artemis — the neglected goddess of the hunt and chastity — would walk dogs for a living and wonder why everyone gave up on abstinence.

The book earns its name. These gods act badly, not quite as badly as Rob Schneider; but by the second chapter, Apollo has already turned one woman into a tree for refusing to perform a sex act on him and consoled himself by shagging Aphrodite in the bathroom.

It’s vulgar but perfectly in character. Greek myths are rife with examples of grosser stuff than that. Zeus used to turn into animals to seduce women. (What kind of weird, bestial women would that attract anyhow? “Hey, honey, can I buy you a drink? No. What if I told you I could turn into an ungulate?”)

The gods combat the boredom that comes with immortality by playing nasty tricks on each other. The nastiness would continue indefinitely if a pair of mortals didn’t become involved in their tiffs.

The mortals — Neil and Alice — are very different than their Grecian neighbors. First, they have a basic sense of decency. Two, they are completely unspectacular. Alice’s lone skill involves Scrabble. Neil doesn’t even have that going for him.

Neil and Alice are also in love also, but too scared to say it.

The book’s first 150 pages consist of exposition. It’s amusing exposition and sometimes clever, but “Gods” didn’t grab my interest until a surprising plot twist halfway through. (I don’t believe in spoiling surprising plot twists. Suffice to say, it results in a trip to Hades.)

After Apollo does something especially stupid (even for him,) Neil and Alice have to prove themselves heroes of mythical proportions or everyone — including the gods — will die.

Phillips plays with some concepts we’ve seen before — gods in modern times, what happens to a god when nobody believes in him/her anymore. Some of Phillips’ ideas seem indebted to Neil Gaiman. (That’s not a knock. Every author is indebted to someone.) However, she has enough original ideas of her own to make “Gods” work.

So “Gods” is good enough to break the “_____ Behaving Badly” embargo, but I still wouldn’t recommend anything with “The World’s Most” or “Rob Schneider Presents” in the title.

(One exception: If Rob Schneider were ever to present a movie about Rick the Copy Guy, I would be there opening night with a tub of popcorn and flask filled with Scotch.)

--Jason Lea

Jason's coinage of the day:
Sacrilicious - Something that feels so good, it must be a sin.

Amended, per Harold's suggestion:
"Gods Behaving Badly" was written by Marie Phillips and released July 2008.
The ISBN 10: 0316067636. ISBN 13: 978-0316067638.
These ISBNs are for the paperback version because I am, above all things, cheap. However, a hardcover is available.

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Blogger Harold said...

You should include, somewhere on your blog, a block of information like book, author, year published, ISBN, etc. Even better, reference all the books you've mentioned — not that anybody should be encouraged to read Neil Gaiman. Just an idea.

January 9, 2009 at 11:02 AM 

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