Xena Meets Iron Chef

Cover photo courtesy of Karen Dudley

A Review of Karen Dudley’s Food for the Gods (Turnstone Press, 2012).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Make sure to eat a large meal before you read Karen Dudley’s Food for the Gods. Dudley sets her novel in the ancient Greek world where mythology and Athenian life mix. Nothing prepares an ancient Greek chef for a life of cooking more than being made into a meal for the gods. Celebrity chef Pelops was sacrificed by his father Tantalus and made into a meal that was offered to the gods as Tantalus’ attempt to mock the gods. Dudley’s story takes place once Pelops has been reconstituted from this primeval stew (missing only a piece of his shoulder that was eaten accidentally by Demeter and replaced by a prosthetic shoulder of ivory) with a new, very personal understanding of the cooking craft… one could say that his blood was infused with good taste. Having turned down the love of Poseidon, Pelops was forced to find a non-watery solution for cooking in – allowing him to instead use the gifts of Athene and Dionysus (olive oil and wine) to infuse his food with new, rich tastes that set him aside from other chefs.

Having been served as food to the gods, Pelops has the ability to see the gods, and Dudley infuses her work with the divine presence. Food for the Gods combines a mystery plot with a reality-TV-like plot of a celebrity chef insider view… and a hefty dose of ancient gods and furies. Her plot plays with ancient Greek notions of moira (fate), hubris, and miasma (the contaminating quality of polluted acts), challenging her readers to think in an ancient Greek mindset and envision a world where negative deeds are seen as being able to be transferred by touch or by proximity to others. She also interjects the gods into every aspect of life from boiling water to drunken revelry – who would have known cooking could be so divine.

Dudley infuses her work with her incredible sense of humour, combining a serious plot of mystery and intrigue with humourous interludes and several posters advertising anything from advice books on preparing a dinner party to advice on how to properly interact with prostitutes. Her style of humour is clearly influenced by the ancient Athenian comic poet Aristophanes, blending body humour, social commentary, and philosophy/theology.

Although infused with humour, Dudley’s work also challenges modern notions of the stability of morality structures and introduces aspects of the ancient Greek world that would be considered taboo or outsider narratives in modernity. Dudley discusses sex workers as normative and unthreatening, and, unlike many narratives today, humanises her prostitute characters rather than casting them as social outlaws or social problems. Rather than casting her prostitute characters as drug-addled criminals with complex and problematic histories, Dudley displays prostitution as an employment option and even portrays one of the prostitutes as the love interest for her story.

Dudley’s plot exemplifies the ancient Greek comfort with queer subjectivity, and does not feel the need to narrativise queer lives or to construct reasons why her characters are queer. The homosexuality of her characters is just another part of their existence and is not complicated as something outside of the norm.

This novel encourages the reader to think outside of the temporal subjectivity (outside of the tendency of modern society to think of itself as superior and “the only way things could be”) and question whether modern methods of viewing the world are better than those of the past.

Dudley combines the playful engagement with mythology of Xena with the culinary interplay of celebrity cooking shows, and a healthy dose of mystery and crime-solving. By the end of reading this, you will find yourself reading Homer while eating a gourmet meal and pondering about the crimes in your city. I look forward to more of Dudley’s work with a fork in one hand, a spyglass in the other, and ancient Greek pottery on the table.

Warning: Do Not Read On An Empty Stomach. May Cause Hunger.

To read more about Karen Dudley’s work, visit her website at http://www.karendudley.com/ . Visit RavenStone Press (an imprint of TurnStone Press) for Food of the Gods at http://www.ravenstonebooks.com/


Deliciously Dark and Depressing Discourse on the Divine

Review of: The Object of Worship, Claude Lalumiere (in Objects of Worship, Chizine, Toronto, 2009).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In The Object of Worship, Lalumiere demonstrates his extraordinary powers to question societal norms about sexuality and the nature of ideas of family. His ability to engage with the strange and macabre makes this a powerful story that leaves the reader with fundamental questions about the nature of reality and a dark, brooding feeling that cannot help but facilitate questions of identity.

Lalumiere proposes a world whose population is female-only and lesbian relationships are the norm. This short story is centred around two partners, Rose and Sara, who are engaged in a struggle about the nature of worship and whether to worship their household, living god. The worship of these living gods is the norm, and the normative lives of these women is disrupted when a new neighbour moves into the area who refuses to worship the traditional gods. The result is domestic conflict and divine retribution.

Lalumiere juxtaposes the familiarity of a lesbian relationship with the abnormalcy of worshipping living household gods and impregnation by these gods as the only means of reproduction. By placing lesbian relationships as the normal household, he challenges the idea of the heterosexual relationship as the only possible relationship and allows for the idea of homosexual reproduction. He challenges notions of ‘normal’ families, and although a story about same-sex relationships, the family structures in this story are the least ‘queer’ element. But, in his typical fashion, LaLumiere does not propose an easy reading of homosexual reproduction and complicates this further with the internal relationship conflicts between the two women and the control of a deity figure that is responsible for the impregnation and who shares the bed with both women, suggesting the possibility of a masculine-like (although referred to as ‘it’) figure engaged in this lesbian coupling.  Harmony in the family in this world is judged by the god, who forces its vision of harmony over couples by destroying the physical features of their households when it  views the harmony of the family to be in jeopardy.

In this world atheism is seen as both a potential disruption to notions of social cohesion, and also difficult in light of the physical reality of the gods. They ARE there, moving around the house and punishing people for not offering them what they desire. They fundamentally question ideas of worship and religiosity by being both physically real and having real effects in the world, but having lesser morals than their human counterparts – they would just as soon feed on tears as they would on familial harmony. Atheism is situated here as fundamentally more moral, but disruptive and harmful to the lives of those who continue to worship these gods.

The Object of Worship is a short story where the reader is cast into a gloomy world of shadowy (im)morality where he or she simultaneously sympathizes with characters while being repulsed by them. It leaves the reader with a feeling of delicious depression and the pondering of the world that comes with it.

The Object of Worship is located in a volume titled Objects of Worship that you can explore at: http://chizinepub.com/books/objects-of-worship.php