In the sixth chapter of American Gods, Shadow meets the gods. In his head. On a tiger. And that’s not even the strangest thing in this chapter. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read American Gods.
Well. I didn’t expect any of this. Gaiman seems to be a huge fan of making me feel utterly bewildered and lost, more so than any book I’ve chosen to read for Mark Reads. There are so many phrases, terms, and characters that are completely out of the realm of understanding for me, but that doesn’t mean I dislike what I’m reading. I wanted to do a single book to keep myself on my toes, and I’m pretty happy so far that I’ve chosenAmerican Gods to do this. It really isn’t like anything I’ve done on this site, and it’s forcing me to think differently about how to write about this book.
Shadow’s experience is hallucinatory and I couldn’t help but think of Lewis Carroll, or maybe even Roald Dahl, who both dropped characters into another world so rapidly and without explanation. Sure, we have some context to this, but…no, seriously, the animals on the carousel become real and Shadow can see the true nature (or natures, in some cases) of the gods before him and they’re riding toward’s Odin’s Hall and what the holy fuck is going on. The multi-faceted visions, the animals, the impossibility of it all….Gaiman makes no attempt to rationalize this in any realistic way, and I kind of love him for that. It’s weird. Go with it.
“None of this is truly happening,” he said to Shadow. He sounded miserable. “Is all in your head. Best not to think of it.”
Yeah, Czenobog, that might be a bit hard because Shadow is riding a goddamn tiger. Oh my god, he’s miserable while riding a centaur. Should I type that again? Czenobog is miserable while riding a centaur. This book, I swear. I will never get that opportunity again. I’m taking it and you can never take it from me.
I don’t know what Gaiman is doing to me at all, but I like it. I love that Shadow is at a point in this journey where everything is so bizarre that there’s really no point in actively challenging what he’s seeing or experiencing. And perhaps this is me doing that thing where I read into something far more than I should, but Shadow just submits himself to the experience, and I find that to be an intriguing subtext to me. Of course he’s confused. Who wouldn’t be? The man he’s been traveling with just told him he’s Odin, for christ’s sake. I think it’s perfectly fine to feel a bit frazzled by this, but his dedication to his job (which requires him not to ask a whole lot of questions) feeds into this nicely. He accepts this first, then asks those questions later. And even when he doesn’t really get a good answer, it doesn’t eat away at him either.
Oh, and this whole segment takes place in Shadow’s mind. Literally. Or maybe figuratively. Who knows? It doesn’t matter, I guess, and I don’t feel like it would enhance this story to know these sort of details. Gaiman truly doesn’t spoon feed us answers or context either, but I’m finding that it’s okay to be a bit ignorant of what all these references mean because it’s not required to understand at all. I don’t know who Compé Anansi is, nor do I know who the woman in the red sari is supposed to represent. The story that Compé Anansi tells, while surprisingly entertaining, doesn’t help to shed light on his identity if you hadn’t studied non-Western religions at this point already.
So what I ultimately appreciate is that it’s almost the point of all this that I don’t know who these gods are. When Wednesday finally gets up to speak to the few gods who didshow up, it’s pretty much spelled-out what the main conflict of all of this is, but not in a way that’s condescending to me. The speech he gives really isn’t for us, but for the few gods who have arrived: they have barely survived here in America. As Wednesday describes it, “Not enough to make us happy, but enough to keep going.” Many of these gods (or, as it seems, versions of them) were brought to America by those who traveled here. We’ve seen this in a couple flashbacks, most recently Essie’s history.
God need belief and worship to exist in these physical bodies. (Is that how they die? When the last person stops believing? Is there a…I don’t know, a delivery system for worship?) For these gods who are old and dying, life has not been easy at all, but we finally learn why Wednesday has enemies and why he’s gathering the gods together:
“Now, as all of you will have had reason aplenty to discover for yourselves, there are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods of credit-card and freeway, of internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, god of plastic and of beeper and of neon. Proud gods, fat and foolish creatures, puffed up with their own newness and importance.
“They are aware of us, and they fear us, and they hate us,” said Odin. “You are fooling yourselves if you believe otherwise. They will destroy us, if they can. It is time for us to band together. It is time for us to act.”
Well. Well. This is interesting. I’m totally on board with this, but I have just one question: Why? These new gods are clearly more powerful and I doubt there’s going to be a resurgence in Odin-worshipping in the United States, so why do these gods of technology and modern materialism care? The old gods will eventually disappear? Is this an issue of dominance? I was glad to get confirmation that non-religious concepts could result in the creation of gods, but I still don’t understand all the rules of this world quite yet.
I did not expect the complete rejection of Wednesday’s plan by everyone, though. The gods are entirely reluctant to join a war that might certainly lead to their death. How can gods destroy one another, though? As long as there is still some belief, can they even be terminated? Regardless, I get the sense that this is not the first stunt Wednesday has pulled before. The gods are offended at the very suggestion, and as soon as it started, they’re all taken out of Odin’s Hall and Shadow’s mind, finding themselves in the room with the Carousel at the end of the last chapter. Well, that went well, didn’t it?
It did not, and yet….all the gods are going to a nearby restaurant to continue talking? Or just eat? Won’t that be a tad awkward? “Hi, I just rejected your awful plan, can you pass me the salt?” Okay, sure, they don’t hate each other, but Mama-ji is quick to explain why she wants no part in this.
“If you ask me, he wants a last stand. He wants us to go out in a blaze of glory. That’s what he wants. And we are old enough, or stupid enough, that maybe some of us will say yes.”
I admit that Wednesday does seem the type, but I’m also lacking any real history of the interactions between the gods. They must have met before this and there must be a reason that Odin seems to make himself out to be some sort of leader of the whole group, though I’m now imagining that this was something he did entirely of his own choosing.That would be in-character.
(Who is the young man that hums?)
I confess that I was completely shocked by the return of the…wow, I almost typed “masked crusaders.” What is my brain doing? So soon after the last altercation, the men who kidnapped Shadow the first time are back for another round. (Though, now that I think about it, it’s entirely possible that these men represent a different group, too.) He’s taken to a mysterious building and held in a cell with metal walls and…shit, things get brutal remarkably fast. Why are these people doing this, though? Like Shadow, I feel like I’m missing some huge point to this, that there’s some crucial piece that Wednesday forgot to tell Shadow that would help put this all together. This seems like overkill to me, but again, I admit that I probably have no real idea of what’s going on.
While waiting for hours for anyone to show up, Shadow occupies himself with coin manipulation. It’s something that’s happened so many times that I am wondering if this is going to be an important plot piece later in the novel. But it only keeps him busy for so long before he finally falls asleep out of exhaustion. Which is always a terrible, terrible idea, but what can you do? They gave him a blanket and everything!
But the more I read about the interactions between this mysterious force and Shadow, the less I think it has anything to do with the first group who assaulted him. These gods (or helpers of gods?) speak so much different than the cybergods we met before. They use terms like “state’s evidence,” and Shadow recognizes rather quickly that they’re acting out a good cop/bad cop routine right in front of his eyes. Are these representations of people’s worship of “authority” maybe? At this point, virtually anything is possible. If there can be gods of phone or gods of internet (WHAT A TERRIFYING THOUGHT), certainly this could extend to other areas, yes? But those seem like older concepts, so they wouldn’t necessarily be newer gods wanting to extinguish archaic beliefs, so….what?
I am sure of this:
“But I can assure you,” said Stone, with another smiley smile, “we are the good guys.”
WHEN, IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD, HAVE THE GOOD GUYS EVER KIDNAPPED A PERSON, BEAT THEM, TORTURED THEM, AND DETAINED THEM AGAINST THEIR WILL, SAID A LINE LIKE THIS, AND THEN ENDED UP BEING RIGHT? The answer is never and every time I see this, it makes me laugh. LOL U AREN’T FOOLING ME. Especially when they start beating on Shadow and any issue they might be supporting is all but lost on me in an instant. Sorry, not going to care about you at all anymore. Why are you doing this to Shadow? What is so terrible about him siding with Wednesday?
Gravely injured by the beating and left alone in his cell again, Shadow’s thoughts begin randomly drifting, landing on his dying mother, his silver coin, noises outside the room, but he eventually gives in to the pain and passes out. I recognize the character trope working here and Gaiman isn’t really subverting it, so much as he’s embracing the idea of a character taking on a small assignment and being horrifically thrust into a world he had no idea existed. But usually the beatings are reserved for mid-story acts and instead, Shadow is now unconscious on the cold metal floor because he chose to help out Wednesday, not knowing what he has gotten into.
And even recognizing the trope didn’t help me to guess what would happen next: Laura returns. And she still has a body and Shadow isn’t imagining it.
“Where did all the blood come from?” he asked.
“Other people,” she said. “It’s not mine. I’m filled with formaldehyde, mixed with glycerine and lanolin.”
“Which other people?” he asked.
“The guards,” she said. “It’s okay. I killed them.”
“It’s easier to kill people, when you’re dead yourself,” she told him. “I mean, it’s not such a big deal. You’re not so prejudiced any more.”
THAT IS LIKE THE BEST-WRITTEN LINE IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE!!! Oh my god. She’s not prejudiced against death any more because she is dead herself. But I love that this is further proof that Laura’s promise to her husband is real. I’m not sure of the logistics of this. Can she just disappear and reappear at will? Or only when her husband needs her? Maybe that’s the key to this; perhaps it requires some sort of belief on Shadow’s part.
“Oh, and one of the men had gone into the cell down there to jack off with a magazine. He got such a shock.
“You killed him while he was jerking himself off?”
She shrugged. “I guess,” she said, uncomfortably. “I was worried they were hurting you.”
Not only is that dedication to your husband, but what an awkward situation to be in when you are murdered. Maybe the guy’s last thoughts were pleasant? Who knows? Either way, I have to say that while this may seem a bit convenient to have Shadow’s wife show up to save her husband when he needs it, I’m happy there’s at least an emotional reason for this. As Laura says to Shadow, “You shine like a beacon in a dark world.” She is drawn to him for some other reason. She confirms to Shadow that she thinks she knows what’s going on, but we’re not told anything beyond that. Gaiman instead chooses to give us some depressing character development on Laura’s part as a way to add depth to what might have just been a two-dimensional plot point.
She is dead. She is helping her husband through a confusing journey, but that does not mean she doesn’t have her own desire as well.
“I want to be alive again,” she said. “Not in this half-life. I want to be really alive. I want to feel my heart pumping in my chest again. I want to feel blood moving through me–hot, and salty, and real. It’s weird, you don’t think you can feel it, the blood, but believe me, when it stops flowing, you’ll know.” She rubbed her eyes, smudging her face with red from the mess on her hands. “Look, I don’t know why this happened to me. But it’s hard. You know why dead people only go out at night, puppy? Because it’s easier to pass for real, in the dark. And I don’t want to have to pass. I want to be alive.”
I’m glad that she has some choice in this, that she’s not just some pawn to push the plot forward. She is just as confused and lost as Shadow, maybe even more so because she lacks a living body. And as Shadow begins to walk south, no idea where he’s supposed to go, I find myself wanting to know more about Laura as well.