“Furthermore, it goes without saying that all of the people, living, dead, and otherwise in this story are fictional or used in a fictional context. Only the gods are real.”
I’ve been wracking my brain on how I could review American Gods by Neil Gaiman for a while now, and since today it’s the blog’s birthday, I set my mind to actually getting this done. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I find myself at a loss of words to explain why or how. Fortunately, it offered a lot of memorable quotes, so I’ll just dump as many of them as I can without becoming spoilerific (yes, that’s a word), in a haphazard-pretend-to-be-structured manner.
I’ll open with a quote from close to the end of the book, a quote I find could have just as easily sat in the beginning (though I suspect the author decided to gradually ease the reader into the fantastical side of the story, so maybe I’m wrong): “None of this can actually be happening. If it makes you more comfortable, you could simply think of it as a metaphor. […] So none of this is happening. Such things could not occur. Never a word of it is literally true. Even so, the next thing that happened, happened like this:”
The story is more of a pretext for a two-fold journey. Through the geographical space America, a sort of sight-seeing of its culture and people, and through the human collective psyche, with help from all the gods we created throughout history.
Despite the subject, and in part due to the nature of the book, the author manages to stay away from tackling religion as an institution too much. Considering his style, it’s unsurprising how he explains his attitude: “Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prized chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you – even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition. Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.”
Brimming with all sorts of humour (ranging from clever situational humour to some of the most horrible puns I’ve seen in a book of this calibre), the pacing is always comfortable. Gaiman is a splendid author and he renders the characters with so much apparent ease at times I felt like I was in the room with them. It felt like reading a good movie, if that makes any sense.
“I’m seeing Robbie tonight. We’re planning your surprise welcome-home party.’
‘Of course. You don’t know anything about it, do you?’
‘Not a thing.’
‘That’s my husband,’ she said. Shadow realized that he was smiling. He had been inside for three years, but she could still make him smile.”
“‘Hey,’ said Shadow, ‘Huginn or Muninn, or whoever you are.’ The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side, and it stared at him with bright eyes. ‘Say “Nevermore,” said Shadow. ‘Fuck you,’ said the raven.”
“Chicago happened slowly, like a migraine. First they were driving through the countryside, then, imperceptibly, the occasional town became a low suburban sprawl, and the sprawl became the city.”
“‘Is that a joke? asked Shadow. ‘Damn right. Gallows humour. Best kind there is.'”
“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)”
There is a particularly delightful passage where a secondary character lists her beliefs which I absolutely loved reading. I’ll drop here a couple of snippets:
“I believe that all men are overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline of drive-in movie theaters from state to state.”
“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 and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of casual chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly.” That last part is typical of the whole book, following up on (more or less) deep philosophical ideas with practical issues that often pull a snicker or at least a smile from me.
In any case, I’m really not sure what else I could say about the book. It’s not an ordinary book. It’s philosophical, it’s fantastical, and it’s so grounded in reality it made my head spin. Gaiman did such a good job at describing America I essentially never want to visit the place. Apparently he’s working on a sequel. I’m really curious to see what that will be about.
A few more random quotes:
‘Call no man happy,’ said shadow, ‘until he is dead.’ ‘Herodotus,’ said Low Key. ‘Hey. You’re learning.’ ‘Who the fuck’s Herodotus?’ asked the Iceman”
“EVERY ENDING IS A NEW BEGINNING. YOUR LUCKY NUMBER IS NONE. YOUR LUCKY COLOR IS DEAD. Motto: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON.”
“when you don’t know where you’re going it always seems longer – you ever notice that? First time it takes forever, and then ever after it’s over in a flash?’
“(What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not fooling a soul)”
“There was a lot of time to kill until six. Shadow wished he could comfortably watch television once more. He wanted to be entertained, not to have to think, just to sit and let the sounds and the light wash over him.”