Book Club In Session: Monster by A. Lee Martinez

Monster HeaderWith this month’s book club (ok, we don’t really have that kind of time sensitive structure), Heather, Lauren, and Zach sit down with A. Lee Martinez’s Monster, a book concentrating on the hidden world of demon/creature catching going on right under the common folks’ noses.  (For a spoiler free review, read Heather’s solo write up here)

Lauren:  Being a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from day one, it’s hard for me to pass on something that involves this type of supernatural world.  At times it leads to books that will remain memorable for years and years to come (such as Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch), whereas other times I get suckered into a half-baked story such as the one we have here.

The way in which this world is set up is rather simplistic, yet at the same time manages to be a pretty interesting concept involving the perception of magic in the world.  To explain in simply, everyone has the ability to see magic, but not everyone’s mind has the talent for processing it correctly: some are always aware, some see it only to forget with a short passage of time, and some let it dance right in front of their eyes without acknowledging its true presence.  This concept alone could add for some rather interesting confrontations between beast and man, but at the same time it is also frustratingly problematic.

Take the first encounter involving the yetis in the supermarket.  One of the main characters and her boss acknowledge that there is a yeti eating the majority of the frozen food section, yet they are ridiculously nonchalant about it.  This could be argued to be the brain subduing the overreaction that could come with fully understanding the situation, and later when a yeti finally attacks she does have the common sense to defend herself, but I still found myself a little confused and needing help rationalizing this.  This is an example of a decently handled interaction when I thought it out past what the book tells us, but the consistency with this doesn’t hold steady throughout as they try to work in the different types of people.  Take her sister.  At one point a sphinx appears on top of her car, to which she calmly accepts as being a lion.  This reading of the creature is all well and good, but why the heck is it acceptable for a lion to be on her car!?  Why is no one freaking out!?  Again, this could be the muddiness of the brain’s ill processing, but still, let them freak out at the lion!

Heather:  I definitely see your point there.  Even if I didn’t understand magic or realize that it exists, I would still freak out if I realized I was cruising down the street with a lion on top of my car.  Furthermore, Judy’s sister’s reaction to her house being blown to smithereens doesn’t really seem to faze her either.  Clearly she isn’t going to understand that her house no longer exists because of the magical showdown that took place inside of it, but she should still have asked a lot more questions than she did about why her house is in shambles!  It’s almost as though the part of the brain that is fuzzy on processing magic dulls the rest of the senses as well when any type of magic is involved.  It doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, and Martinez never attempts to clarify.

I didn’t have as much of a problem as you did with the non-magical sensing characters’ lack of reactions to the outlandish scenarios they found themselves in, perhaps because the rest of the story was so utterly ridiculous in the first place.  The story would have been ok had the characters themselves been interesting, but I thought they lacked any real dimension.  They didn’t seem to grow at all throughout the novel (except for Judy).  This is all fine and dandy, except for the fact that the type of story Martinez wrote should have been one with a lot of character growth, especially from Monster, the male protagonist!  By the end of the story, he was the same cynical, shallow, jaded character he was when we started the novel.  I kind of wish his succubus girlfriend would have played a larger role – I at least found her amusing.

Zach: I agree all counts mentioned above; however, I have to say that even Judy’s character was pretty shallow.  She spent the entire story being useless, then in the span of one page she’s all, “I know what I must do.”  *BOOM*  “I just saved the world.”   She didn’t ease into the realization that she was special; it was such a sudden and jarring change.

The only character I enjoyed was Chester the paper gnome.  It was fun to think about a 6th dimensional being “clocking-in” to our dimension for work, although I couldn’t wrap my head around some of his origami shapes he twisted himself into.  At one point they describe his unoccupied form as just a piece of paper no bigger than 11×17” from what I could gather, but when he’s occupying that paper he folds himself into a bear that’s large enough to subdue a very strong, large, cow woman?

Overall I thought the book was an enjoyable read, but the more I think about the overall story and characters the more I feel like the book should have been stretched out into a series of books, where the world and the characters could have been fleshed out more.  There was just too much stuff jammed into one small novel.

Lauren:  Yeah, Judy was just as annoying as Monster because she yelled at him more than anything, even when he came to help her against his better judgment.  Ok, maybe a giant worm dragged him there, or he was actually going to yell at her to stop whatever she’s doing, but there was at least one point where Monster was like, “Fine, I wont leave her here to die!”  Granted, maybe he just really wanted Chester to stop looking at him all disappointed and judgy.

More so than simply agreeing with Zach about Chester being the best character, I can also agree with what he says about a series vs. a solo novel.  As I mentioned before, when reading books like this it’s hard not for me to think of Buffy, and especially the structure of a TV show.  It is made to have an arc through the season, as well as have episodes that completely tell a story.  To me, Monster felt like an episode that would come in the middle of a season when we have already accepted who the characters are (which would explain why Monster doesn’t change within the pages of one book) and have learned the basic principles of the world we find ourselves in and how it works.  Here, there was a lack of growth in the characters, as well as how the world was handled on the whole, so I couldn’t help feeling like I was missing out on something more.

Heather:  Ok so now everyone is singing the tune that Judy was shallow?  I only said Judy showed a little bit of growth here because when I said she didn’t grow at all during our original face-to-face discussion, you two (namely Zach) jumped down my throat about how Judy had changed.  After all, she didn’t know magic existed in the beginning of the story and by the end she was casting her own spells and capturing magical creatures all on her own (I say this with a high degree of sarcasm because I don’t think that this makes her any less shallow than she was before).  However, at least by the end Judy realized that the whole adventure she and Monster went through together forged a connection between the two of them, no matter how tenuous.  I didn’t expect them to be best friends when everything was said and done, but together they witnessed things that no one else in the world had.  The least Monster could have done was to not go out of his way to ignore Judy.  Maybe even drop by and say, “Hey? You ok?”  Instead, he falls back into his old habits, where he doesn’t owe anybody anything, not even common courtesy.  What a d-bag.  I get angry just thinking about his character.

This book had the worst ending I have read since In The Woods by Tana French.  Monster is all down on himself (like usual), and instead of being friendly with Judy, the one person who could have helped him reflect on his talents as a creature catcher (or even discover new talents), he decides to go have sex with a slutty angel.  Typical male.

In conclusion, I hate everything about Monster’s character.  He ruined this book for me.

Zach:  Monster was a pretty fun read, but honestly there’s not a whole lot more to say about this book. Simply put, it felt unpolished and rushed.  It definitely would have been better stretched out into three novels.  All in all, I give it a 3 out of 5.

Heather: Three Novels?!  I could barely make it through one!  I give it 2 out of 5 stars.

Lauren:  Well, maybe had they known they were planning for a series of novels it would have been better written because there was more time to build and evolve the world and characters.  This may not be a realistic starting point for a novelist, but hey, we can dream.  I’ll give it a 2.75 out of 5.  That’s right, I still can’t decide between 2.5 and 3, deal with it!

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