Saturday, May 15, 2004

Gods in America

I know it's usually the day I do my Montaigne essay, but you'll just have to wait until tomorrow because I finished American Gods by Neil Gaiman this afternoon and have to tell you all about it. American Gods is the kind of book that takes its time. It creates itself layer upon layer like a painting. It takes a long time for anything big to happen but along the way, there is plenty going on. There are twists and turns and dead ends and seeming dead ends, and surprises, big surprises. And there are ideas. The main idea is that America is inhospitable to gods. Which god? All of them, though Gaiman deftly leaves out the God of the Old Testament and the New. But all of the other gods and demi-gods are here Odin and Kali and Bast and Horus and Easter. And there are new gods too--Media and Technology and hundreds of others, the gods of things modern and digital. The old gods were brought here by the immigrants and travelers who came to the land and brought their gods with them. But the people that remember and believe in the old gods are mostly gone and the gods are turned into grifters and salesmen, undertakers, drunks and crazies. The old gods are the ones who say again and again "This is not a good country for gods." But the new gods are young and fat and believe they will last forever and want to do away with the old gods once and for all. They do not yet realize that

People believe....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 it is the eventual disbelief and disillusionment that then leave the conjured things abandoned and struggling to remain alive in the world. So there you have the main theme and the plot too for that matter. The story, however, belongs to Shadow. He gets caught up in the battle between the gods. He is hired to work for the old gods. He doesn't ask questions; he isn't paid to ask questions. He just does his job. But his job becomes increasingly more difficult and more enlightening as he deals with god after god. Shadow's story becomes a spiritual journey as well as a journey of self-discovery. I won't tell you anymore than that for fear of giving something away. American Gods is a satisfying book. It fills you up like a hearty stew on a cold winter's night. But like anything truly delicious, it leaves you wishing you weren't so full so you can eat more. I have a copy of Gaiman's Neverwhere, but I have to let this book digest for awhile.