Monday, July 23, 2012

American Gods by Neil Gaiman


“‘It doesn’t matter that you didn’t believe in us,’ said Mr. Ibis, ‘We believed in you.’”-American Gods by Neil Gaiman
I’m always fascinated by how one author can lead you to another. When I read Neil Gaiman’s blurb on the back of Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, I had no idea who he was. I know. It’s shocking. Just shocking. It’s the truth though. Anyway, I kept Gaiman’s name stored in the back of my mind, and while at a bookstore in San Francisco, I spotted a stack of American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition and decided to see what Mr. Gaiman was all about. All the books were signed in fountain pen ink (I’m guessing Montblanc Bordeaux, but I’m not certain) and I instantly became a fan of Gaiman for that fact alone. I bought a copy of his book and was intrigued that much of the story takes place in the Midwest. The plot revolves around ex-con Shadow whose wife dies just before his release and return to Eagle Point, Indiana. Matters are made stranger by a Mr. Wednesday who practically stalks Shadow in an attempt to hire him as a body guard. With no other options, Shadow accepts Wednesday’s offer and enters a surreal world where the gods of the old world barely survive in an age of modern technology where people sacrifice time to television sets instead of animals at altars. 
Throughout the first fifty pages of Gods I was convinced that I was not intelligent or cultured enough to understand the book: it was just weird. I understood that this was a fantasy novel with elements of horror, but the complexity of Gaiman’s writing left me feeling a little less superior about my literary background, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Fortunately, I am not one to give up on a book and once I delved further into the story things started coming together and I realized we aren’t meant to understand everything Gaiman is trying to say right out of the gate. Shadow isn’t even sure what’s going on, so why should we?
When discussing the Tenth Anniversary Edition it is crucial to point out why this text is more than just a reprint with a fancy new dust jacket; it’s actually a different text from the original American Gods with an additional two thousand words. I’ve never read the original version, but I suspect there’s something of value missing from it because there is no fluff in this new edition. The publisher also included an essay about the novel written by Gaiman, addressing the issue of being an Englishman writing about American culture. His words are poignant and it reinforces the fact that writers can write compelling work about places, people, things, and events they never experienced first hand.
Although often perceived as a serious author, Gaiman made me laugh out loud on several occasions. Mr. Wednesday gets most of the chuckles with snide comments like telling Shadow that mead, “tastes like a drunken diabetic’s piss.” Wednesday is one of those wonderful characters who is completely devoid of morals, but you always want to succeed.
If you enjoy American Gods you’ll have plenty more to choose from in Gaiman’s prolific body of work. His novel Anansi Boys is a spinoff of Gods  and focuses on the character of Mr. Nancy and his sons. It’s not exactly a sequel, but more like what The Ropers was to Three’s Company...except enjoyable.
Writing such unusual and quirky books, Gaiman himself is an interesting person to research. Rather than living in an LA McMansion or a New York penthouse like some celebrity authors, Gaiman’s primary residence is a Victorian home in rural Minnesota which he refers to as his “Addams Family House.” He also has a small writing studio in the woods behind his home where he writes his stories longhand using a fountain pen. He also has a cavernous library as all good writers should.
I believe that he is also kind. He responds often to fans via Twitter and email, and regularly promotes Kickstarter projects in which he has nothing to gain. I also read on a writing forum that when a young author asked other authors for career advice on another forum, Gaiman was the only person to respond. That’s pretty badass though, to have your question answered by Neil Gaiman.
Gaiman’s books are just about everywhere so please pick up a copy of American Gods when you can and let the weird wash over you.

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