Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Only the Gods Are Real

A long time ago, corbeau, Neil Gaiman fangirl that she is, sent me a copy of Neverwhere. I really liked it, but I didn't love it. I think I was looking for more of an explanation of what was going on, although I enjoyed the fantastical adventures.

I can't remember whether I read Good Omens before or after that, but I also found myself disappointingly underwhelmed after all the hype. Again, I really liked it, but I didn't love it, as much as I wanted to.

Last year, I finally read The Sandman, which was fucking amazing overall even though there were lots of little things that didn't work entirely for me.

I also read Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of short stories, about half of which I really liked and half of which left me vaguely confused, I think.

Last month, I read Stardust, which was pretty good but not as satisfying as I had wanted it to be.

I felt bad because I thought I was the kind of person who should totally love Neil Gaiman, but his work seemed to be very hit-or-almost-hit-but-not-quite-goddammit for me.

And then I started reading American Gods, which has won like every award known to man. I was immediately thrown before I even began when jeeperstseepers informed me that it was a very serious book. I had thought it was something quite whimsical, the premise being that gods are real and living in America. How silly! Zeus is a gas station attendant! Ra sells sunglasses! Hoo hoo! I thought it was like that. But no. Mostly.

The basic premise is that gods are real and living in America. All the gods, from all the cultures, they were all brought here in the minds and beliefs and customs and traditions of the men and women who form this melting pot. It's a great idea. Even better is the fact that there's an imminent war between the old gods and the new gods, the upstarts of technology, representatives of the Internet, television, cars, and everything else the modern age worships.

Stuck in the middle is a man named Shadow, just released from jail and enlisted for services by a mysterious man named Mr. Wednesday. If you're up on your Norse mythology, you have a good idea who he really is.

Of course, the delicious thing about this book is that Gaiman really did his fucking homework, and you won't recognize half the gods without Wikipedia. He steals from a variety of mythologies and religions; as far as I can tell, the only gods he made up are the modern ones. All the other figures who make appearances can be found somewhere. They live in our collective consciousness.

For the first 400 pages or so, I will admit I was wary. While there was a plot, it was rather thin and mostly seemed to consist of Shadow meeting god after god after god, how cute. I enjoyed it all well enough, but I was afraid it would all be pointless. There were constant mentions of the coming storm, and I really wanted to get to the damn storm. Around the 400-page mark, however, some earlier characters made return appearances, and I began to get the sense that setup mode had ended and now we were moving into the payoff section of the book.

(Note: about ten to fifteen percent of the book doesn't really pay off, and it's just there for flavor. At the ends of most chapters, Gaiman provides an interlude spotlighting a god, and he does it because he is a storyteller who loves telling stories, and I love that about him.)

By the end of the book, I discovered that I retroactively liked everything better. I know you're supposed to appreciate the journey and not the destination, but the destination sounded so cool I really wanted to get to it, and when I finally reached the destination, I appreciated the journey a whole lot more. It's completely weird because I recognized quite a few things at the end that normally bug me about Gaiman but instead totally worked for me in this book. Somehow, he made me buy it all. The sum trumped the parts.

American Gods really makes you think about the power and nature of belief (much like Hogfather), especially the way it works in America. It gives you a very cool perspective on the country, the wacky country that formed a strong personality out of everyone else's.

American Gods is the first Gaiman work I have really loved since Sandman, unexpected as that love would have seemed at some times. It's a rich tapestry of dreams and mythologies and belief systems and cultures, like America itself.
Tags: books, comics, lj friends, neil gaiman, od friends

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