I just finished American Gods, my 4th Neil Gaiman book, and I have to say that should Neil Gaiman ever need a personal assistant, I’m available. He doesn’t have to pay me much as long as I’m guaranteed some daily tutelage wherein we discuss the electromagnetic nature of the written word. I’ll even sign up to do his laundry if it means I could sit at his feet and take notes. He can wax philosophically about the craft of writing while the tighty-whities whirl about good-naturedly in the spin cycle. I’ll even add fabric softener.
How does Gaiman do it? From where does he conjure these fantastical worlds? Many, perhaps all of Gaiman’s characters have, if not a toe, then an entire body immersed in mythology — Norse, Greek, Roman, Native American, Hindi, more. It’s obvious that the man has done some reading, but beyond the myth and the ability to craft a delicious sentence — not too tart, hot, or sweet with just the right amount of description and dialogue, so plump and full of raw talent it could be sashimi — there is this knowing, as if he alone has solved the puzzle of the human condition.
In America Gods, we meet Shadow, a name apropos of the person Shadow has become. Shadow spent three years in prison for a crime he didn’t want to commit. He learned a few things in there, like the arts of judiciousness and waiting. Prison forced a certain transcendence upon the reluctant hero, stalled as he was, and above all, he learned to adapt. The only thing Shadow wanted from his old life was Laura. Knowing she was waiting on the outside made the inside bearable. So it was unfortunate that a week before Shadow was about to be sprung, he got called down to the warden’s office, an uh-oh in the making. You didn’t think Shadow was going to receive a get out of jail free card, did you? Come on, it’s Neil Gaiman. Apparently, Shadow sensed it, too, so when the warden delivered the unfortunate news, that Laura was dead, Shadow felt the icy fingers of a cosmic stranglehold creeping up on him. Now what?
The warden granted Shadow an early release so he could attend Laura’s funeral. Once the worst happened, it was almost easy to find out the rest: Laura was having an affair with Shadow’s best friend, Robbie — the one who ran a gym, the Muscle Farm, and who was going to give Shadow a job when he got out. The reason they were both dead was because Laura’s mouth was where it shouldn’t have been, especially not while Robbie was driving. Maybe Robbie wouldn’t have lost control of the car and hit the tractor-trailer head on, pardon the pun, if he and Laura had been buckled up for safety. The news of the affair pushed Shadow into the extreme discomfort zone, and then Laura visited him and it got worse.
With nothing much to do, Shadow took the first job he was offered as a bodyguard and a driver for an eccentric yet affable old dude. Before it’s all done, Shadow will face a slew of gods, the living specter of his beloved and decomposing Laura, the many faces of death, and more Gods than are in a comparative religion class.
Read American Gods now before it becomes a series. You know the book is always better.
American Gods premieres on Starz on April 30th.