In the third chapter of American Gods, I can barely comprehend what the fuck is going on. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read American Gods.
Okay, I’m hooked. I can’t lie. I’m not at a point where I’m ready to propose to this book or anything, as I still have a loving affair going with the His Dark Materials trilogy, but I am comfortable stating that I am truly fascinated by what little I know about American Gods. I think I’m starting to get a handle on how this alternate history works, and chapter three provides more details that I think will be crucial towards understanding what this is all about.
I thought that perhaps Gaiman might push the plot forward more before I’d found out additional details about this world because…well, Wednesday is pretty stingy about giving Shadow any information on who the kid on the limo is. All he says is:
“I know who he is.” He sat down, heavily, on the room’s only chair. “They don’t have a clue,” he said. “They don’t have a fucking clue.”
That’s it! It’s clear that Wednesday will give information when he thinks it is necessary, and right now, it’s not necessary. So I resolved myself to accepting that I would just have to wait to find out what was going on. It seems Shadow resolves himself to the same, retiring to his own hotel room to take that bath he promised himself and to devour an entire pizza. (If you’re at all curious, Gaiman’s description of that episode of Jerry Springer is remarkably accurate. Though…does anyone remember the early days before his show turned into a circus? I swear it used to be a real talk show? But perhaps I’m imagining that.)
I expected that Shadow would wake up the next morning and we’d begin his journey to clean out his life in Eagle Point before he set off with Wednesday. I thought that Gaiman was giving us foreshadowing by having nearly every train of thought of Shadow’s lead straight back to Laura. Would this be his experience in their old apartment? Would getting rid of her possessions be a catharsis on his point?
He drifts off to sleep and haves another seemingly nonsensical dream. Well, it starts off that way, but it’s now obvious to me that this is not his imagination making up anything. Is someone sending him messages through his dreams? I’m not sure yet, but we’re given one of the most basic ideas of the universe of American Gods: there is a place that gods go when they are forgotten. Of course, this takes me back to the end of chapter one and Bilquis. Is she trying to avoid ending up here? Is she trying to keep herself alive? Does this mean that gods have physical bodies as long as someone believes them?
I don’t think Shadow has quite put all of this together. For now, the dream just disturbs him. All those statues of gods with unfamiliar names and unfamiliar shapes: what do they have to do with him? Why is he seeing them? My only guess is that someone or something showed Shadow the hall of the Gods in order to get him to understand what he’s gotten himself into. But if that’s the case, that doesn’t really explain what happens once he wakes up.
I actually had to read the sentence a couple times to make sure I didn’t misread the words upon the page:
There was a woman sitting on the side of his bed.
He knew her. He would have known her in a crowd of a thousand, or of a hundred thousand. She sat straight on the side of his bed. She was still wearing the navy-blue suit they had buried her in.
Her voice was a whisper, but a familiar one. “I guess,” said Laura, “you’re going to ask what I’m doing here.”
I think that’s a fair question. He’s hallucinating, I thought. It’s his grief. So I kept looking for signs to prove that this was just a vision, but instead, every detail that Gaiman provides suggest that she is physically there in front of him. Why can he smell “an odor of rot, of flowers and preservatives”? Is his hallucination that rich? Laura asks for a cigarette to calm her nerves, which is also bizarre. If she’s a vision or even a ghost, why would she need a cigarette? Shadow obliges her, and I honestly expected him to return and find that she wasn’t there at all, and he’d just shake off the experience as a by-product of his bottled-up grief.
Nope. She’s still there. He touches her when he gives her the cigarettes and the matches. Her fingers are cold. Meaning she has a physical body that he can touch. That’s not how ghosts work. So…what? Why is there mud under her fingernails?
The two begin to talk, awkwardly at first, and we learn that Laura was involved in the armed robbery that got Shadow put in jail, which certainly gives us a reason why she didn’t abandon him when he went to prison. They also discuss the three years he was away, and I’m pretty sure this is one of the most awkward things I’ve read in a long time. Shadow is talking to his dead wife about how cheating on him got her killed. To be fair, her justification isn’t all that surprising: she got lonely. Robbie and her became good friends. It just happened, and it continued for the next two years, until the night she died. And Shadow was wrong about what happened there, too. Laura was the drunk one, and her attempt at sexy times in the car is what got them killed.
The closure might help, but what is this all about? My own thoughts were wandering to how this was even possible.
“I don’t know much more than I did when I was alive. Most of the stuff I know now that I didn’t know then I can’t put into words.”
WELL, YOU’RE NO HELP AT ALL. Why are you even here? Why come back?
“You’ve gotten yourself mixed up in some bad things, Shadow. You’re going to screw it up, if someone isn’t there to watch out for you. I’m watching out for you. And thank you for my present.”
Well, yes, I agree that Shadow has no clue what he’s gotten himself into. But watch over him? Does this mean Laura is going to show up again? What does watching over him actually entail? Oh god, are guardian angels real, too? WTF.
Laura’s tongue flickered into Shadow’s mouth. It was cool, and dry, and it tasted of cigarettes and of bile. If Shadow had had any doubts as to whether his wife was dead or not, they ended then.
Well, that’s unsettling. His wife is dead. This is her actual body, the same one that was supposed to be buried. And she’s promised to “watch over him,” whatever that means.
Shadow looked out the doorway. The night clerk kept on reading his John Grisham novel, and barely looked up as she walked past him. There was thick graveyard mud clinging to her shoes. And then she was gone.
So it was real. It really happened. This was not a hallucination. And when Shadow immediately goes to get Wednesday to tell him what happens, this is outright confirmed. Well, first Shadow sees that Wednesday has the motel clerk in his bed. Okay. Wednesday ponders what Shadows tells him, then follows him to the other room, only clad in a white room towel. ALSO THIS IS IMPORTANT:
There was a white scar down one side of his torso.
As soon as I read that, I went A-HA! There is no way that Gaiman would include that if it were not important. The conversation between these two men is very brief. Shadow admits that he’s ready to leave town as soon as possible, Laura’s apartment be damned. So it looks like this journey is going to start a whole lot earlier than I anticipated. I like this. But for Shadow, there is a moment here where Gaiman allows him to take in the situation, and it’s a fairly gutting scene:
It had been a very long time since Shadow had cried, so long he thought he had forgotten how. He had not even cried when his mother died. But he began to cry then, in painful, lurching sobs. He missed Laura and the days that were forever gone.
For the first time since he was a small boy, Shadow cried himself to sleep.
I genuinely feel awful for Shadow.
Coming to America
Oh. OH THIS PART. OH HOW I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. Like chapter one, Gaiman switches the point of view, this time focusing on a group of explorers? Exiles? Travelers? I’m not sure what to call them, but they seem to be willingly escaping their gods:
The men said, “We are far, far from our homes and our hearths, far from the seas we know and the lands we love. Here on the edge of the world we will be forgotten by our gods.”
I didn’t think these “gods” would be named, but the leader of this group tells a very specific story that made me SO UNBEARABLY EXCITED:
“The all-father made the world,” he shouted. “He built it with his hands from the shattered bones and the flesh of Ymir, his grandfather.”
THAT CAN ONLY BE ONE BEING: ODIN. ODIN. And if you know anything about Norse mythology, there is a VERY SPECIFIC ELEMENT TO ODIN’S STORY:
He sang of the nine days that the all-father hung from the world-tree, his side pierced and dripping from the spear-point (at this point his song became, for a moment, a scream), and he sang them all the things the all father had learned in his agony: nine names, and nine runes, and twice-nine charms.
WEDNESDAY IS ODIN. OH. MY. GOD. And there was that whole bit earlier where Shadow was sure Wednesday had a glass eye. ODIN GAVE UP ONE OF HIS EYES IN THE PURSUIT OF WISDOM. ;ka a;kdlfja df;a;lsdkfja sd;fh Does that mean Loki is somewhere in this? Oh god, ODIN IS REAL IN THIS BOOK. Holy shit, that is so awesome! And…oh my god. The scraeling. This is the story of the first Norse men who come to Greenland, isn’t it? IT IS. But what does this have to do with what’s going on now?
It was more than a hundred years before Leif the Fortunate, son of Erik the Red, rediscovered that land, which he would call Vineland. His gods were already waiting for him when he arrived: Tyr, one-handed, and gray Odi gallows-god, and Thor of the thunders.
They were there.
They were waiting.
Oh sweet christ, this book is going to be fun.