Don’t Drink the Cat Lady’s Tea
Monster by A. Lee Martinez is a fantasy novel with comic overtones. The titular character, a pest control agent for cryptobiological creatures, works with a paper gnome that’s actually a physical manifestation of an extradimensional creature. His girlfriend is literally a demon from hell. He’s called in when Judy, a night shift worker at the local food mart, encounters a yeti in the ice cream aisle. But that’s just the start of an explosion of mythological creatures in a mundane suburbia. Monster and Judy eventually learn that the sudden appearance of all these “cryptos” may be tied to the fate of the universe and a sinister cat lady.
While I found the plot engaging, the main character–initially–was less so. Monster, frankly put, is a loser and a coward. He fell into the pest control business by default, he doesn’t care to try to be better, he only cares for instant gratification and not the consequences (hence the demon girlfriend), it’s all about him, and when the going gets tough, he runs away. Despite all the extraordinary things happening to him, he acts like a dweeb. He is uncomfortable and unlikeable–a failed frat boy with no ambition.
Martinez uses the character of Monster as a metaphor for us–especially for being complacent. How many of us have gone through the motions of life, content to let the gravity of circumstance drag us through out experiences rather than making any effort to break out and do something different? How many times have we made the choice of instant gratification over long term effects? Do we automatically always follow instinct in not rocking the boat? Monster realizes all of this almost at the last moment and–of course–makes a decision that could both be viewed as heroic and a vote for the status quo.
Although I’m not so sure that Monster really deserved Martinez’s happy ending for him, I did like the novel for its freshness in a market that’s currently dominated by tough protagonists in leather. In a way, the characters seemed more realistic. While there are certainly people who act heroically all the time, Monster–because of his cowardly nature–seemed more genuine. Judy behaved with a mixture of befuddlement and denial with the extraordinary events. Her foolish actions are not of a stupid character but rather that of an extremely frustrated person who has discovered that her previous, comfortable life is gone.
And the cat lady was chilling in her “niceness”. Because you have to figure that something is wrong if she’s keeping the universe’s consciousness as a cutting board in her kitchen.