Aug 17, 2009

American Gods (2001)

It's approximately four hundred degrees and humid in Montreal right now. And of course, nothing in Montreal is air-conditioned, because it's winter all year. The only real reason I even own fans is to dry my laundry faster. But this week is that random week that happens every year where it's too hot to do anything but sit with your feet in a tub full of cold water until your toes all prune.

Fortunately I don't have to work this week, since my office is the hottest room in the apartment. Just being in it right now to write this post is a feat of extreme heroism.

I'd actually already planned to use this week to do some serious reading. There's just so much I haven't read, and so much of it sounds so good. I'd assumed I'd read all the classics since my parents were such lit snobs and I plowed through their walls of bookshelves several times as a young'n. But it turns out that there's a lot of brilliant stuff out there that doesn't fall into the categories of "Renaissance humanism," "Feminist self-empowerment treatise," and "German existentialism," if you can believe it. And a lot of it is a hell of a lot more fun to read.

So yesterday I read American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I'd never read anything of his before (duck and cover to avoid the withering stares of the fan base), but damn. I think I'm in love with the Americana branch of magical realism. I'm going to just go ahead and call that my favorite pleasure-reading genre until further notice.

AG in large part takes place in Wisconsin, with local landmarks, expressions like "yoopie" (person from the upper peninsula (UP) of Michigan that sits on top of northern Wisconsin) and bathroom doors labeled "pointers" and "setters" all giving it that delicious midwestern feel. It's also, of course, bizarre and supremely clever and just dirty enough, but I'm sure there are others out there who can much more eloquently detail its value as an important piece of modern literature.

It also (and I've definitely broken a sweat so this is my last point) breaks a lot of The Rules. It uses the "like we're living in a novel" bit not once but several times. It veers into long descriptive passages about towns and roads and landmarks to set the scene. It doesn't delve very deeply into the personalities of any of its elaborate cast of characters. Okay, most of them are gods, but there are a couple humans in there, and hardly any of them have more than one or two distinguishing traits. And its central conflict is a battle between Good and Evil. Cliche? I think so.

And do any of these things detract from the book? Not a whit. This is what I'm always talking about - the rules are there to inform you of things that a lot of writers do badly. But they can be done well, and if they are, your book can be a cult hit and bestseller even if it includes a full chapter describing the House on the Rock. Thank you, Neil Gaiman, for raising the bar.


Hayley said...

This's another one I read years ago. One our road trip this year, we listen to the audio book. I've never been able to concentrate on an audio book before but this -- I'm rediscovering Gaiman and American Gods, and getting to share it with my family (awkward as that can be, listening to sex scenes with a boy in the back seat).

If you haven't read Good Omens, please do. He wrote it with Terry Pratchett and it rocks socks.

Erin said...

It's definitely on my (horrifyingly long) list! Gaiman + Pratchett could only be a winner. Do you by any chance own a copy I could borrow?

I would have been horrified to listen to this book with my mom, especially, like, the bit with the cat? I shudder to even think. You're a brave, brave lot.

Hayley said...

Between the cat, the taxi driver and the goddess at the beginning who swallowed a john with her ne'er-do-wells, I think we might have damaged our child for life.

I do have a copy of Good Omens! I picked it up for Trev a couple of months ago. This means, of course, that we'll have to drink beer together.

Hayley said...

I mean you and I will have to drink together, not the child and I. Of course.

Erin said...

It's true, we must! What evening is good for you?