Dead Beautiful by Melanie Dugan
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."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!
"Yeah, well, the system isn't perfect. It needs some adjusting."
"We are the system, you big dolt." (p74-75)