In the second chapter of American Gods, Shadow takes a job, fights a leprechaun, takes a ride, wakes up hungover, buries his wife, and gets kidnapped. Sort of. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read American Gods.
I forgot to mention this yesterday, but I am reading the 10th Anniversary edition of this book. i am an adult i swear
If anything, Gaiman’s got my attention already. I can say that much about this book so far.
Actually, I can say a lot of things about this chapter, but I know that I’ve crossed the point of being woefully ignorant and into the realm of “Please Feed Me More Information, Neil Gaiman.” And I’ll tell you why: Mr. Wednesday is a presumptive motherfucker. He knows what Shadow wants and needs. He orders for him. He has all the answers, he’s going to purposely tease you with them, he will frustrate you forever, and he gives absolutely no fucks at all. Here is an accurate portrayal of Mr. Wednesday’s day-to-day life:
And that is canon.
Shadow has had enough of Mr. Wednesday’s unbelievable behavior and his creepy stalking, so he continues to reject the job offer. Besides, he has a job anyway.
“Would that be the job at the Muscle Farm?”
“Maybe,” said Shadow.
“Nope. You don’t. Robbie Burton’s dead. Without him the Muscle Farm’s dead too.”
WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS BOOK DOING TO ME. His wife and his friend and his job? What the hell? Suddenly, his job proposal seems like the only logical choice left, and it seems Shadow’s opening up to the possibility. But he ignores the newspaper the man tries to hand him, choosing to enjoy his first real meal since getting out of prison. WHICH NO MAN SHOULD DENY. I’m glad that Gaiman doesn’t ignore the little flashes that Shadow would have of both his past and his wife, and especially given that his wife has just passed, it adds to the character’s realism that a mediocre bowl of chili in a side-of-the-road bar would trigger thoughts of his wife’s superior recipe. Which I kind of want to try because I fucking love chili.
But this pleasant memory of his wife disappears when Shadow finally gives the paper Mr. Wednesday gave him some attention. It turns out that his wife and Robbie actually died in the same car, meaning that his wife and his best friend are now inextricably linked in their death. Was Robby drunk? Probably, and Shadow imagines his wife fighting him, trying to get him to sop. It’s like Shadow is merely existing to get punched in the face over and over again.
It’s at this point that Shadow, resigned to accept the randomness that life has given him, essentially agrees to take on the job that Mr. Wednesday offers him. And everything just gets weird. Shadow tries to rig a coin toss to prove that Mr. Wednesday has shit luck, but the man ends up guessing correctly. Mr. Wednesday also claims to know exactly what Shadow will drink, and goes to get mead (IS THIS A GAME OF THRONES WHAT THE FUCK) while Mr. Sweeney sits down next to him. (Side note: My god, nothing is more American than the hat/shirt Mr. Sweeney wears. Bless this book.)
And how does Mr. Sweeney finally introduce himself?
“You working for our man then?” asked the bearded man. He was not sober, although he was not yet drunk.
“It looks that way,” said Shadow.
The bearded man lit his cigarette. “I’m a leprechaun,” he said.
Shadow did not smile. “Really?” he said. “Shouldn’t you be drinking Guinness?”
“Stereotypes. You have to learn to think outside the box,” said the bearded man. “There’s a lot more to Ireland than Guinness.”
“You don’t have an Irish accent.”
“I’ve been over here too fucken long.”
“So you are originally from Ireland?”
“I told you. I’m a leprechaun. We don’t come from fucken Moscow.”
It’s too matter-of-fact. I’m starting to put things together. I don’t think Mr. Sweeney is lying at all. I think he’s a leprechaun. Well, at least the concept of one, but he clearly looks different than what we assume one to be. Soooooo….what is this book??? And who is Mr. Wednesday? And why mead?
“I brought you mead to drink because it’s traditional. And right now we need all the tradition we can get. It seals our bargain.”
Okay, so Mr. Wednesday is obsessed with tradition and…he’s a mythical being as well? Why else is he hiring Shadow to help him, almost like Shadow is a bodyguard? (Or his own shadow DO YOU GET IT IT’S A GREAT PLAY ON WORDS). How does he know a leprechaun? How does he know the reason why those “everybody-shuts-up-at-once” moments happen? As I started asking myself these questions, it seemed more and more obvious that Mr. Wednesday was some form of a metaphysical being. I don’t think he’s lying about pretty much everything he tells Shadow in this chapter. It would be too easy to just write him off as someone who’s a habitual liar and a bit delusional.
So Shadow accepts that this all just a tad strange and agrees to work for Mr. Wednesday, though not before making a few demands, which includes going to Laura’s funeral and working for $500 per week, to be raised to $1000 a week if he lasts six months. He also stipulates that he’ll hurt people if necessary, but will not go back to prison. Mr. Wednesday responds by telling him he won’t have to, which also seemed more like a promise that he could control. What sort of power does Mr. Wednesday have? Why does he require that Shadow drink three glasses of mead to seal the deal?
Mr. Sweeney himself is not above being weird as fuck either. After catching Shadow playing with a coin, demonstrating his ability to master illusions, the leprechaun pulls multiple gold coins out of thin air. But it’s not a magic trick, and Gaiman makes that clear from the way he writes it. Mr. Sweeney is actually able to create coins out of nothing. Yeah, there’s no way he’s not a leprechaun. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE. MUST KNOW MORE.
What I’m enjoying about this book so far, and what keeps me interested, is that Gaiman takes what we’ve seen so far, and then he makes it stranger. As I said before, he has a very direct style, so there’s not an incredulous tone when Mr. Sweeney orders Shadow to fight him in order to learn how he pulled off that coin “trick” of his. There’s no shock when we learn that Mr. Sweeney is entirely serious. Shadow quickly just assumes that this is some sort of test that Mr. Wednesday set up and obliges Mr. Sweeney in a brutal fight in the bar. This might be my favorite detail, though:
He became very aware of the audience around them. Tables were pulled out of the way with protesting groans, making a space for the men to spar.
I love that it almost implies that the bar, full of regulars, is used to this occurring on a weekly basis, and it’s irritating that they have to accommodate it.
“So how’d you do the coin production?” asked Shadow. He swayed back and twisted, took a blow on his shoulder intended for his face.
“To tell the truth,” grunted Sweeney, “I told you how I did it when first we spoke.”
SEE? What did he say when they were first talking? That he was a leprechaun. IT’S TRUE, ISN’T IT.
After slipping on an ice cube, Mr. Sweeney finally yields to Shadow. (I can’t help but use the word “yield” after reading so much of A Song of Ice and Fire. SORRY IT’S INGRAINED IN MY HEAD NOW.) In celebration of the victory, Shadow begins to drink, heavily, while Sweeney falls asleep. Who does that??? Apparently a living leprechaun. WHY CAN’T I BE HIM.
The narration skips to the next morning, where we learn that Shadow has forgotten most of the night before, waking up with a hang over in the backseat of Wednesday’s car. Where the two are ultimately headed is a mystery, but first, they stop so that Shadow can clean himself up in a gas station. There’s another incredibly bizarre scene here, and it’s one that I don’t have the slightest clue about. Wednesday essentially fakes being confused about using cash and credit. “He seemed very old, suddenly,” is how Shadow observes it. Wednesday was obviously on the verge of tears, an old man made helpless by the implacable plastic march of the modern world. At first, I assumed this merely meant that he was genuinely confused by such a thing, but back at the car, Shadow points out that he knows Wednesday did this on purpose, getting free gas in the process.
“So what are you? A two-bit con artist?”
Wednesday nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I suppose I am. Among other things.”
And I accepted this, too, despite that I wasn’t sure why he would do that. Wednesday didn’t seem to have a limited amount of money, so why con someone out of a tank of gas? I was confused, admittedly, the more I thought about this, but I didn’t know what it all meant, so I put it in the back of my mind. Wednesday drives Shadow through Eagle Point, and he sees how much his town has changed in the three years. The Muscle Farm is closed indefinitely. No Super-8. A Wendy’s in its place. His wife is dead. They’re all part of this new world, and it’s one he feels numb towards. But it’s nothing compared to his experience when he goes to see Laura for the last time. I can’t imagine how bizarre it must be to enter a room full of people who recognize you, but haven’t seen you in three years, who don’t greet you, and who only look on with a mixture of fear and sadness. Even Audrey Burton, the widow of Shadow’s best friend, doesn’t recognize him. Maybe Shadow has changed too much. Or maybe her grief is too powerful.
Audrey placed her spring of summer violets on Laura’s chest. Then she pursed her blackberry-colored lips, worked her mouth for a moment and spat, hard, onto Laura’s dead face.
WHAT IS THIS BOOK DOING. What??? Why would you do that? What did Laura do? Shadow chases after her and….oh lord.
“They didn’t tell you?” Her voice was calm, emotionless. “Your wife died with my husband’s cock in her mouth, Shadow.”
She turned away, walked out into the parking lot, and Shadow watched her leave.
He went back into the funeral home. Someone had already wiped away the spit.
THIS BOOK. THIS BOOK. Good god. I hate even typing this sentence, because it’s basically asking for the opposite, but HOW COULD THIS GET ANY WORSE FOR SHADOW. Oh, he could ride to the funeral with Laura’s mother, who not only blames Shadow for Laura’s death, but thinks he’s a barbarian. THAT’S PLEASANT. THAT’S TOTALLY REASONABLE. And look, Laura’s funeral itself is goddamn depressing. I liked that Gaiman matched Shadow’s emotion with the weather, casting the sky with an “featureless” grey. I also liked that Shadow didn’t have some giant speech prepared for his wife, either; he just gives her the gold coin he got from Sweeney, says good night to her, and then, “I’m sorry.” That’s it.
Afterwards, Audrey strangely tries to give Shadow a ride, which…seriously, you just spit on his dead wife’s face. I don’t think he’s in the mood. I’m just guessing here, okay??? But she’s oblivious to how awful she sounds, trying to give Shadow a justification for what she did.
Shadow turned. “Do you want me to tell you that you were right when you spit in Laura’s face? Do you want me to say it didn’t hurt? Or that what you told me made me hate her more than I miss her? It’s not going to happen, Audrey.”
She drove beside him for another minute, not saying anything. Then she said, “So, how was prison, Shadow?”
“It was fine,” said Shadow. “You would have felt right at home.”
CAN YOU FEEL THE BURN. Holy shit. Thankfully, I think she gets the message and she finally leaves Shadow alone. And he truly is alone, in every sense, his whole family gone, his friends gone, and he walks alone in the snow back to the hotel where he’s supposed to meet Wednesday. However, we only think he’s alone, because after he trips into the snow and mud, he’s attacked from behind and passes out after getting a mouthful of…chloroform? Does that actually work? I’ve always wondered that. It seems like a convenient thing to use, and it happens so often, that I’m not sure it’s actually real.
Anyway….well. WELL. In the last pages of chapter two, we’re introduced to what appears to be the main conflict, though I am bewildered by what I just read. Clearly, Wednesday has some mortal enemies of his own, but…what. what WHAT IS GOING ON. From what I can tell, the people who capture Shadow are young. In fact, the main guy refers to a group of his minion as “the children.” Why are they so young? It’s clear that they despise Wednesday so much?
“You tell Wednesday this, man. You tell him he’s history. He’s forgotten. He’s old. And he better accept it. Tell him that we are the future and we don’t give a fuck about him or anyone like him. His time is over. Yes? You fucking tell him that, man. He has been consigned to the Dumpster of history while people like me ride our limos down the superhighway of tomorrow.”
I know that Gaiman has a beautiful thing for words, and I can’t ignore how this teen posits Wednesday as being ancient, whereas he and his cohorts are young. Is this a clash of old versus new? This kid’s entire language is of technology. Reality has been “reprogrammed.” Language is called a “virus,” and religion is an “operating system,” and prayers are “spam.” This has to be intentional. But why?
“You should know that if we do fucking kill you then we’ll just delete you. You got that? Once click and you’re overwritten with random ones and zeros. Undelete is not an option.”
What are you talking about? WHY DOES THIS ALL HAVE TO DO WITH THE “dominant fucking paradigm?” What has Shadow got himself into? A mess, I’m sure, but I’M LOST.