Thursday, September 20, 2007

American freaking Gods

So I'm reading American Gods. And it pleases me to an absolute cordiallity. Not only is it keeping me interested, not only is it getting me to think about how stories go together, and about foreshadowing, and plot twists, and how to take existing folklore and sort of twist it around into a really interesting shape. Not only am I enjoying this book, I'm enjoying it so much I want to tell people about it. I never tell people about what I'm reading, unless they ask specifically. I keep beginning this conversation: I'm reading this great book. It basically has the premise that America is a godless land, and as people immigrated here they brought their gods with them, then forgot about them, but the gods survived. And the gods got bitter...

I haven't managed to get anyone as psyched as I am...but my sales pitch is still evolving.

I keep having the experience of having a really good idea, and then finding out that someone famous has done it. I thought to myself, "fucking cowboys in space, man!" Then I saw Firefly. I was mad at Joss Whedon for a few days.

I had a similar experience with this book. A while ago I had a really vague and half formed thought that sort of took the form of, "Modern Odin...." I read the first chapter or so of this book. Guy says, "It's Wednesday. My day. Call me Wednesday." And I sort of wished I was more ignorant. I already knew Wednesday is Odin's Day. (Say Odin's Day a bajillion times fast, and, actually, pronounce like the Russian dude--can't remember his name, sledgehammer cow slayer--Votan, which, I think, should be pronounced "Wotan" more or less. Wednesday comes pretty painlessly from that.) So that gave that whole surprise away. But I sat and I thought about it for a bit, and went, "aw, cool." I kept reading the book, and decided I didn't have much of a reason to make up Modern Odin. Gaiman did it well. He has my blessing.

I freaking love this book, though. It's so awesome. The criticism I have of it, having gotten half-way through, I don't think there's enough really happening. Not in this whole Lakeside/Pleasantville stretch. I think the modern gods should be more proactive. It seems as if they aren't trying to accomplish anything. But I feel that Gaiman is probably good enough an author that because I'm thinking that, it means something is about to happen. And if it doesn't I will lose most of the faith I have built up in him.

Lakeside/Pleasantville is a wonderful example of complexity. It is Pleasantville. It really is. Everyone's nice, everyone's helpful and friendly, it's pretty all the time, comfortable and just all around groovy. But there's that undercurrent of a town not too much more than one medium sized disaster from just throwing in the towel. The people love it, but they see that it's dead-end. It isn't growing, it isn't prospering, but none of the citizens have any illusions about that. They know it. So while being that absolutely gorgeous place that you know you want to live, it's still somewhat sad and poignant. Plot-wise, it is the reprieve place: the resting place, the quiet place where our hero is protected, where nothing can get him, where the problems milling around, the mounting storm, are somewhere else and distant. But it's still a place where sadness can get to.

Realy cool.


Ali said...

See? This is why I want to be him when I grow up. Neil Gaiman is one of the best writers I've ever come across, and American Gods is one of the best things he's written.

It is rough, though, finding out that someone else has already written your brilliant idea, and that they've done a good job of it.

Shane said...

Hmm. As much as I liked "Stardust" I also found it kind of rough and too short. I know it was going for the fairy tale mold, but there seemed to be a lot of jumps and glossing over events (the movie did a much better job with the Air Pirates, for example). As a result I haven't picked up any other Gaiman books yet (plus I'm still slogging through The Stand), but you're getting me interested. I might just add "American Gods" to my reading list. So your sales pitch (along with Ali's continued praise of Gaiman) can't be all that bad.

Ali said...

Yeah, as much as I love Neil, I admit that his illustrated/comic book writing often isn't as good as his straight prose. I'm not sure why, but it's there. So, even if Stardust didn't quite grab you (and I totally agree that the movie had some advantages over the book), American Gods still stands a good chance of doing so.