Book Review: ‘Of Gods, Royals and Superman’ (2015)
Alumnus Tom Maremaa ’67’s most recent novel, “Of Gods, Royals and Superman” (2015), might hit a little close to home for some of his fellow sons and daughters of Dartmouth — it follows Christopher Reed, president of the fictional fraternity Quad Alpha, after his expulsion from the College on account of his brotherhood’s especially creative methods of ensuring their new members’ loyalty, a practice colloquially referred to as “hazing.” The Dean of the College tells Reed that he has six months to “do something great” if he wants to stand a chance of graduating with the rest of his class — so off he goes to “save starving children,” a phrase tossed around by probably every single character to whom he explains his situation. I, for one, immediately thought he should travel across the country; first, with the cast of a Mark Twain drama troupe and later, the film crew for a Superman remake, before settling down and working in a restaurant for a few months to really learn the value of hard work. We can take bets, if you want.
Anyway, those of us who spend our Wednesday nights in Berry or in bed can relate to the second protagonist, Morgan Kinder. She is devoting her senior spring to hunting down an author who went missing decades ago but whose two published books bare an uncanny resemblance to the events unfolding in the modern-day world of Maremaa’s novel. At the same time, poor Morgan is trying to deal with all the boys her promiscuous roommate and sorority sister, Lisa, keeps bringing home. Morgan is working on a thesis. She does not have time to deal with nonsense. Again, I can relate. (Aside: my roommate is fantastic and will kill me when she reads this.)
The novel reads a bit like a comic book — the scenes are fast-paced and the dialogue tends toward the robotic catch phrases you would expect from Batman and Robin. Thinking about how quickly the scenes move, I’m astounded that “Of Gods, Royals, and Superman” is as long as it is, a testament to the sheer volume of twists and turns in the plot. According to Maremaa, the book hovers around 100,000 words, which is about one-sixth the size of “War and Peace” (1869), a book which could have five-sixths cut away but still make a formidable paperweight for all of the articles you have to read for class. (But if you do pick up the massive Russian book you’ll be immediately initiated into the group of Alumni Gym regulars who never leave their dorm without their Blender Bottles and never leave the gym, period, so you’ll soon graduate to massive barbells and never need to pick up measly little “War and Peace” again.)
But enough about Tolstoy; sure, Russia still has their hard alcohol, but we have our freedom! Maremaa might be a little optimistic about how much freedom, though, seeing as his characters repeatedly make phone calls during plane rides and our hero Christopher Reed finds a “kilo of weed” that his fraternity brothers hid in his carry-on luggage as a joke once he’s already up in the air. Even if we shift our timeline back a bit and say this is a warm, fuzzy pre-9/11 airport, I’m skeptical about the odds of a kilo of weed making it onto a plane undetected. I’m also skeptical about Reed’s friends’ senses of humor and how much they actually wanted him to come back for graduation.
The novel ended with an abrupt twist that actually made me angry — Maremaa jumps forward four years and reveals a future for the characters that first of all, I honestly and naively did not see coming, and that secondly, I think deserved more of a storyline and explanation. Overall, though, despite demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of both airport security and in-flight cellular device laws, “Of Gods, Royals, and Superman” was a fun read about redemption and the terrifying prospect of the post-Dartmouth leap into reality. And Mr. Maremaa, if you think I didn’t notice that you wrote yourself into the novel as approximately four separate and distinct characters, you are sorely mistaken.