Friday, January 2, 2009

Well-imagined gods and shadows (Books - American Gods - by Neil Gaiman)

One quarter of the way through Neil Gaiman's American Gods and I can't say, like the queen, that I'm not amused, but I am finding the whole thing a bit unsatisfying. Shadow survives three years in prison imagining the joy awaiting him when he returns to his wife and the job he will work at with his best friend. But he is released two days early, being told that both his wife and best friend were killed in a car crash. He is then pursued by a mysterious man in a white suit who wants to employ him. It seems no matter what lengths Shadow goes to to avoid him, the man keeps popping up and Shadow finally feels he must say yes.

Apparently his employer and his cronies are gods of a non-judeo-christian variety (Odin, Frau Holle) but Shadow is too dull or too logical to realize it for over 150 pages. I am enjoying Gaiman's sense of humor, his collection of antiquated gods whose importance never took hold in America, are self-important and hungry for some realm in which they can wield their power - they remind me of a few boards of directors I've been around (I've been around some great ones too). Despite their various powers, Gaiman humanizes the gods with amusing flaws. When he and Wednesay (his empoyer) stay overnight with several cronies in Chicago, one of his hostesses can, it seems, harness the power of the moon but she can't cook worth a damn. The best scene so far has been a meeting of these old gods, accessed by riding the largest carousel in the world, housed beneath Frank Lloyd Wright's House on the Rock. Gaiman uses this to begin to reveal to Shadow who he is among. They travel "in the minds" of one of the gods, and Shadow is then capable of seeing each of the deities in their many guises simultaneously.
He was looking at Mr. Nancy, an old black man with a pencil mustache, in his check sports jacket and his lemon-yellow gloves, riding a carousel lion as it rose and lowered, high in the air; and, at the same time, in the same place, he saw a jeweled spider as high as a horse, its eyes an emerald nebula, strutting, staring down at him; and simultaneously he was looking at an extraordinarily tall man with teak-colored skin and three sets of arms, wearing a flowing ostrich-feather headdress, his face painted with red stripes, riding an irritated golden lion, two of his six hands holding on tightly to the beast's mane; and he was also seeing a young black boy, dressed in rags, his left foot all swollen and crawling with blackflies; and last of all, and behind all these things, Shadow was looking at a tiny brown spider, hiding under a withered ocher leaf.
I love the freeness of Gaiman's fantasy and its specificity. I love that the gods would exist in multiple forms at the same time in a way that the human mind could not see. This is all revealed to Shadow following an elaborate description of the carousel, the result being that I heard the calliope and barrell organ music that grinds from an old carousel as this scene took place - it created a marvelous old-carnival atmosphere that was just perfect. However, 160 pages in although I know that Shadow works for Wednesday, and although I know that Wednesday and his godly band are being threatened by another as yet nameless group, I really don't know anything else. Several chapters have been interspersed with this story that have included wildly graphic sex that showed up in the story for no reason I could fathom and the story of Essie Tregowan, the daughter of a Cornish cook who ends up in America. I trust these are all going to fit together in a way that will make me gasp with recognition but right now I am finding the whole effect is disjointed and I'm getting a little impatient for a story that hangs together.

1 comment:

Ex Libris said...

I read this a couple of years ago, having never read anything by Gaiman. I haven't read anything by him since. Just not my cup of tea, I guess :) Happy new year and happy reading in 2009!