Posted on | January 17, 2012 | 8 Comments
This book was recommended by the same person who introduced David Mitchell (number9dream) to me. It was then recommended by another colleague who borrowed number9dream from me. So, it had to be read. 590+ page chunkster or not, it had to be read.
I finished it about a month back, and my head’s been reeling since. I don’t really know how to pen my thoughts down, for this book is epic. But – I have to do better. I have to, at least, give it a shot. So, here goes nothing.
American Gods is literally about American Gods, and how they immigrated to the Americas with their believers, back in the day. Centuries (and generations) later, people have lost faith (as they do), but the Gods continue to live – or exist – as they try and find their place in the new age, when new Gods of technology, media and television have taken the place that originally belongs to them. With the impending storm, a battle is brewing – a battle between the gods, to see which ones survive, and which ones fade into nothing.
“Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”
Shadow, recently released from prison, only to discover that his wife has died in unfortunate circumstances is approached by Wednesday – a man who has many-a-trick up his sleeve. He hires Shadow as a driver of sorts, and so begins the journey to the heart of America, a road trip a la On The Road.
“This is the only country in the world,” said Wednesday, into the stillness, “that worries about what it is.”
The rest of them know what they are. No one ever needs to go searching for the heart of Norway. Or looks for the soul of Mozambique. They know what they are.”
The journey is to gather up all the old Gods to lead them to the battleground, and fight the new Gods. Yes, even Gods have power-struggles!
The paradigms were shifting. He could feel it. The old world, a world of infinite vastness and illimitable resources and future, was being confronted by something else—a web of energy, of opinions, of gulfs. People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe. And then they will not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjurations. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe: and it is that belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen.
And then there’s poor Shadow stuck in the middle, haunted by the physical presence of his dead wife, trying desperately to find some kind of solace with coin tricks, and get over the events of the recent past, and make some sense of the current events: the Gods, the carousel that spins till he reaches the place with the statues of the Gods, disappearances of people, and a myriad of characters – some human, and some, well, Gods. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Even in the unlikeliest of places. But, that possibly, was the biggest problem with Shadow’s character – despite being Wednesday’s driver for most of the book, he really is just a passenger; passive and just along for the ride, while things happen in spite of him. An unlikely protagonist, some might say. Unlikely compared to say, his dead wife, Laura, or the enigmatic Wednesday.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and you can expect to see a lot more Gaiman on here! It’s a hell of a ride, and in parts, it’s exasperating, but all said and done, it’s absolutely worth a read!
And to finish off, one extremely long quote (shamelessly copied from the internet), which I absolutely loved:
“I can believe things that are true and things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.
I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen – I believe that people are perfectable, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkled lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women.
I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state.
I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste.
I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like martians in War of the Worlds.
I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman.
I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumble bee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself.
I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck.
I believe that anyone who says sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too.
I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system.
I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”
The pantheon of Gods unleashed on the readers is like a deep-dive into the world of mythology. The gods, incarnated as ordinary imperfect people, grace the pages, and reading about their past is fantastic. In fact, some of those bits were the most interesting in this chunkster, which I did fly through. It’s a long-winded meandering book, with plenty of detours and excessive digressions, some of which are relevant and some of which not. At times, Gaiman does ramble on for a bit, but his writing is incredibly witty and for the entire book, he keeps the reader (well, me!) hooked.