Dionysus, the hard-partying Greek god of wine, has had his fill of his siblings’ constant bickering on Mount Olympus. Drawn by its promise of alcohol and revelry, “Dio” chooses modern-day New Orleans to blow off steam. Upon his arrival, he mistakenly tries to look for wine in a bookstore, where he encounters first-year law student Zibby, who reminds him of Cleopatra. Thinking Dio must be some nutcase tourist, Zibby gives Dio a place to stay. However, it isn’t long before the deity cuts a swath of drunken debauchery across the Big Easy, and chaos erupts when Dio decides to take the city for his own.
So runs the premise of THE NEON GOD, an inventive little offering from Ben D’Alessio whose writing is full of zest, artfully drawing in the reader to Dio’s enticing journey of drinking and carousing. But it’s not all fun and games. There is some thought-provoking material here, as D’Alessio uses his characters to explore the cost of denying one’s dreams and playing it safe. Besides, it’s a pleasure to see that the author has done his homework–not just in Greek mythology–but in the colorful artistic history of New Orleans. References to John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces and more of the city’s unique cultural touchstones abound.
Characterization is solid, with the story revolving around two well-rounded personalities. Dio is almost a tragic figure; his gut-wrenching sadness creates an elegant poeticism that makes him much more relatable than just as a hard-drinking, self-absorbed Greek god. His newfound friend Zibby is a gem of a character. Though she buries herself in legal studies, in her heart, she truly longs to be a writer. As her heroes either die or turn out to be jerks, it’s a pleasure for the reader to root for Zibby to follow her heart. The author also makes a cameo for himself as Zibby’s law school mentor and dips into his own background as a lawyer to make the horrors of law school truly authentic.
Witty, inspired and playful, THE NEON GOD is an original, offbeat read and perfect for readers interested in learning more about New Orleans’ one-of-a-kind heritage.
~Heather McNamara for IndieReader