I read Caroline Goode‘s novel Cupidity as part of my research for my creative thesis project (long story). The novel features Greek gods and misunderstandings of Shakespearian proportions. But first and foremost, Cupidity (2004) is what most people–who don’t use my expanded definition of the term–would call a chick lit novel. The cover art by Amy Saidens is possibly the best part of this novel. Sad, yes. But to date Caroline Goode doesn’t have any other novels so who knows what’s in store for her (Aimee Friedman started with teen “romantic comedies” too and now she’s a kind of big deal).
(Sidebar: Amy Saidens has done the cover art for lots of YA novels including “How to Not Spend Your Senior Year,” “Spin Control,” and “The V Club.” All of which have ah-may-zing covers. You can see her illustrations at her website.)
Okay, so that’s a lot of background without saying anything about the book. Just to give a hint of what’s in store, my online dictionary defines “cupidity” as “excessive desire, especially for wealth; covetousness or avarice.” So, you can imagine what kind of trouble starts when Cupid is sent to a modern-day high school and decides to disguise himself as a teen girl called Cupidity.
It all starts when the novel’s protagonist, seventeen-year-old Laura Sweeney (a mythology buff conveniently enough) asks Jupiter to send her a boyfriend. The Gods and Goddesses of ancient Rome are still alive and kicking–just not very high. The immortals are rotting in an exclusive nursing home where they have decided to spend . . . well all eternity I guess. This is one of my biggest pet peeves with the novel. Goode is one of the few authors I have encountered with the ingenuity to put ancient gods and goddesses into a modern setting. But instead of making the most of it and creating a really interesting plot device–Goode squanders these amazing characters, having them hobble around with walkers, some bordering on senility. These are the gods that entire civilizations worshiped out of fear and awe. It’s just embarrassing to read about them in a nursing home, I’m sorry.
But there’s more to question in the plot: In a misguided attempt to get Laura that boyfriend, Cupid/Cupidity starts wreaking havoc among the student body. Suddenly skaters are dating nerds. Jocks are hanging out with rockers. The entire social order of Laura’s high school is in chaos. If any of this sounds familiar it’s because every modernized version of Shakespeare’s comedies has done something of a similar type. (The mistaken identity of Twelfth Night crossed with the mayhem of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an apt comparison here.)
This would all be tolerable. Except for the painfully obvious fact that Laura’s perfect guy is right in front of her and she would be able to find him herself if she’d stop whining and really pay attention for a minute. But, of course, she doesn’t do that until the end.
The narrative here is also not the best. The story starts slow and always seems vaguely staged. Case in point: Instead of letting Laura’s interest in mythology stand on its own, it’s basically used to beat readers over the head lest they forget the mythology connection. The fact that none of the secondary characters have any dimension (or even significant roles in the narrative) also does little for the book as a whole.
This comedy of errors is mildly amusing, but in the long run there are too many near-misses and mix ups to make the story anything but frustrating as Laura stumbles along trying to get things back to normal and find true love.