Friday, August 26, 2005

33. American Gods

by Neil Gaiman

I’m a little concerned that I didn’t quite get American Gods. First, there was the fact that I stopped reading the book midway through so I could read some other books. I almost never start in on a book while I’m in the middle of another one, but in this case I really needed to finish Heatwave and then Dandelion Wine and, as you know, I had to submit to my Bradbury craving. Three books later, I had to return to the middle of a rather lengthy story and try to pick up where I left off. I always find that a little distracting.

Second, this is a really long book. And its story is fairly convoluted. I was having trouble keeping track of some of the characters, especially the ones who appeared toward the beginning and didn’t appear again until three hundred pages later. I’m not sure what some of the mystical happenings were, like the woman who sucked an entire man into her nether-regions and the translation of what we thought were mortal men into their god counterparts. Maybe I just don’t know enough about mythology to really understand where Neil Gaiman is coming from or maybe I’m just so anti-fantasy that anything that comes remotely close to the fantasy realm automatically turns me off, but I didn’t love this book as much as I thought I would. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t like it or that I don’t fully plan on giving Gaiman’s other works a try. It’s just that I have heard many, many good things about American Gods and my parting feeling on it is just…that was all right.

Here’s the story as I understand it. There’s this guy, Shadow, who’s been in prison for three years and is on the verge of being let out when he learns that his wife has died in a car accident. As if that weren’t bad enough, he finds out that she died giving a blow-job to another man. On Shadow’s return trip, he meets a man who offers him the last job he’ll ever have. This is Mr. Wednesday. Shadow becomes a body guard of sorts, promising to aid Wednesday in any way he’s asked and, in the event of his death, hold his vigil as should properly be done. Wednesday is a highly mysterious man who never really reveals his plans for Shadow’s employ, nor why the two met “coincidentally” on the plane home. Then Laura, Shadow’s wife, starts haunting him. Well, not so much haunting as refusing to be dead. Which isn’t to say alive, so much as undead. And there are these flashbacks to the “gods” arriving in America and descriptions of the sacrifices they made. There are three Russian women, one of whom gives Shadow the moon. A secluded town loses one child every winter. Shadow’s vivid dreams are broadcast to the waking world. And there’s a big storm brewing.

Is it obvious yet that I didn’t really get the book? It was interesting and I absolutely wanted to finish it and never considered shelving it during my hiatus, but…well…can someone tell me what really happened here? Actually, I did really like the concept of “American gods,” those being those things we worship in our society. Gods of media and technology and celebrity. I like the concept of the new gods warring with the older, traditional gods whose origins have been completely forgotten. It’s a clever take on the way our culture so easily forgets its origins and idolizes the fast, easy, and self-serving. After all, what is a god when no one believes in it?

I’m willing to give more Gaiman a try. I’ve always wanted to read the Sandman comics and I’ve heard similarly good things about Neverwhere. Neil Gaiman has received the praise he has for a reason and I’m willing to take the time to know why. I have a pretty steadfast sci-fi fan in me and that fan really wants to believe.


Anonymous Sheila Rene said...

Neverwhere, I loved. Loved loved loved it, although I really have no idea. It could be because of the literary references.

American Gods, I did not get. I did, but I lost interest halfway in, and only read the remainder because I can't leave a book half-read.

8:59 PM  

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