Mark Reads ‘American Gods’: Chapter 11

In the eleventh chapter of American Gods, Shadow and Wednesday recruit a god belonging to a very specific version of a holiday in San Francisco, and Gaiman takes us into the world of the African slave trade. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read American Gods.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

I think that we are going to build up to this storm, and then I’ll have nothing but an onslaught of chaos for the remainder of the book. The pieces really are starting to come together, but this book definitely has a slower start than probably anything I’ve read for this site. And I’m okay with that. I don’t need books with SHIT GETTING REAL every chapter, with constant-building tension, with mind-blowing revelation after revelation. Which is not a complaint about that at all, but I’m enjoying the fact that Gaiman stretches out so much, building this world alongside a very real one at the same time. That’s an interesting dynamic for a novel like this. As I’ve elaborated in past reviews, Gaiman apparently knows America better than we do??? HOW DOES HE DO THIS? Oh, right, HE’S A REALLY GOOD WRITER. But there’s an entire world stacked underneath ours, and Gaiman reveals both of them as the novel progresses.

But let’s just talk about the beautiful unintended irony of the opening of chapter eleven:

Three cold days passed. The thermometer never made it up to the zero mark, not even at midday. Shadow wondered how people had survived this weather in the days before electricity, before thermal face masks and lightweight thermal underwear, before easy travel.

SEE? I AM NOT ALONE IN THIS. Oh my god, I am totally a weather bigot. I can’t believe I wrote that whole bit about this same thing and Shadow immediately validates me. Clearly, we are on the same wavelength.

Of course, it’s an absurd notion. People live in the heat. They live in states with hurricanes and tornados or earthquakes or typhoons and in nearly every possible weather variation imaginable. Humans are a resilient species. We are stubborn, sometimes to our great disadvantage, but we find  ways to do it. That’s not to ignore the fact that humans are also remarkably awful about their determination to live where they want, but a talk about imperialism is for a later day. For now, chapter eleven continues to expand on the idea of small town politics and the way in which Shadow integrates himself into life in Lakeside.

Well, sort of. There are two moments where it’s clear that Shadow is still a bit of an outsider in this chapter. The first comes at the town library. Shadow is inspired to find out what thunderbirds are and Hinzelmann directs him to the greatest place on earth. Look, I don’t care. I love libraries. All of them. Everywhere. They are magical places to me. Lately, I have been sitting for hours in different branches in Oakland and San Francisco to write these reviews and work on Mark Reads eBooks. It’s like sitting in a vat of potions! It’s so goddamn inspiring, and I find that the words pour out of me when I have all of these books at my disposal for research. (Yes, that’s right. I do love my Google, but I love research in a library. Someone send me back to school, because I miss this shit.)

Anyway, at the library, Shadow performs a coin trick for his neighbor’s son, and she reacts in a surprising way. Shadow had already met her at this point, so I was confused as to why she would treat him with such a harsh attitude. It’s not until he meets up with Chad Mulligan that he finds out that Marguerite Olsen’s other son disappeared, possibly kidnapped by her ex-husband. It’s interesting to me how much this chapter relies on this idea of small town gossip. Well…perhaps “gossip” is the wrong word. This is more like the entire town knowing each other simply by virtue of it being a small town. Chad Mulligan appears to be the only real cop in the city, so he knows Marguerite’s story rather well because of it.

For Marguerite, it adds another layer to her character and I already want to go back and read the first time we meet her in this book. I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of her, and I wonder how Shadow is going to choose to interact with her, knowing she has a complete justification for being so suspicious of her son being alone with Shadow for a few seconds in the library. At the same time, I hope her character is not defined by this tragedy, either.

There’s another dream sequence in chapter eleven that involves the strange god earth thing that we’ve seen before, and it makes me wonder if using the word “dream” is actually not accurate. (God, I love that Gaiman is making me think about something so basic as the word “dream.” ILU, SIR, BECAUSE I LOVE WORDS.) Shadow is asleep, and images float through his brain, and it seemed so obvious to me that this was a dream. But a dream is a reality in your mind, and as far as we know, that’s the only place that it exists. However, more so than ever before, it’s becoming clear that Shadow’s “dreams” are nothing like what that word defines.

I assumed two things were at work here: that Shadow dreamed about things related to his journey with Wednesday, and that some of the “forgotten” gods were merely speaking through these dreams. He had been researching thunderbirds before he fell asleep, and he dreamed about them afterwards. That happens to me often. Well, not dreaming about thunderbirds, but instead falling asleep and dreaming about whatever it was I did last before passing out. So Shadow climbs a mountain covered in bones, the fragments cutting his feet along the way (which is a really unsettling mental image to me, because I am slightly frightened by cutting my feet while barefoot), and does so until he reaches the thunderbirds.

When the dream reaches a chaotic turning point, as the thunderbirds begin to attack him, Shadow wakes up to the phone ringing.

“What the fuck,” shouted Wednesday, angrier than Shadow had ever heard him. “What the almighty fuck do you think you are playing at?”

“I was asleep,” said Shadow into the receiver, stupidly.

“What do you think is the fucking point of stashing you in a hiding place like Lakeside, if you’re going to raise such a ruckus that not even a dead man could miss it?”

What? What? How the…what the fuck is going on? Shadow isn’t really dreaming, is he? How is he able to access…whatever this is? I don’t even know what to call it anymore! Did Shadow forget to turn off his webcam in his mind and now all the gods saw him or something? I AM LOST. Clearly this means something, and something important, but I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.

I don’t like angry Wednesday, who is furious with Shadow for pretty much the entire trip out to San Francisco, where they go to recruit someone else to their “war.” When I started American Gods, I was a tad concerned that I’d chosen a book that dealt with religion in a way that might be too similar to the His Dark Materials trilogy. I suppose that might seem silly to a lot of you. The word “gods” is in the title, but I didn’t outright assume it would have anything to do with religion. And while this book certainly has very little to do with the way religion is addressed in Philip Pullman’s trilogy, I am actually very surprised by what I do want to talk about often. It’s pleasant to be able to write about cities in the United States in a way that is affectionate and excited because…well, let’s be honest. My country’s government, social policies, and general political stance leave a lot to be desired. And that’s something that is important for me to acknowledge as someone who lives here.

Yet it is not mutually exclusive with saying that I really do like what I’ve seen and experienced here in the United States. For the most part, that is. This book is shaping up to be this surreal roadtrip throughout the states that make up this country, and I get really excited to talk about these things. Feelings? I have a lot of them. In particular, San Francisco is one of those places that I do enjoy, but I have conflicted emotions about the place. Again, Gaiman continues to pin down exactly what makes cities tick, and holy god, he knows San Francisco. Seriously! How does he do this?

But he’s right. There is no city on the planet that looks like San Francisco. I started coming here in high school and the appeal of the place, the culture, and the people I met was what planted the seed in my mind: I would live in the Bay Area one day. I came up here for shows, for protests, to visit friends, and to enjoy the food. I balked at the steep hills, adored the wooden house crammed so impossibly together like books on a shelf, snug and ordered and colorful. I loved the weather and the fact that the entire peninsula was surrounded by water. I haven’t quite figured out why I desire living close to the ocean so much, but it’s a big factor in living where I choose to live.

And with all that being said, once I moved to Oakland (which I love so much more than San Francisco), I began to see the city in a different light. I still find it beautiful. I love riding my bike up and down those impossible hills, finding niche restaurants that could not work in any other city, and getting the privilege to see a lot of great shows, movies, comedians, and other arty things that I love because why not. I chose Oakland over San Francisco for reasons of familiarity and cost. For many years, whenever I came up to the Bay, I stayed in Oakland. Plus, it’s nearly half as cheap for the same size apartment in the East Bay as the city.

My job is south of the Financial District, in an area called SoMa. (South of Market, the main street that cuts through San Francisco.) In the year or so I’ve been here, I’ve become far more accustomed to this city, and while I will always enjoy it, it’s quietly become a place that isn’t quite what I used to think it was. Traveling to SF every day on BART is like watching a parade of the most privileged and entitled assholes on the entire planet. It’s a neverending stream of awful, and most days, I try to block everything out by reading. And it’s something I never noticed until I moved here and was surrounded by it every day: San Francisco is home to some of the most entitled, egotistical people I’ve ever met.

Yes, it’s all relative to where I am, where I travel to in the city, and who I’ve chosen to be around. But there is, generally speaking, a different type of person who chooses to live here that I’ve never encountered anywhere else. It’s where my mind started wandering when Wednesday insisted that San Francisco simply wasn’t in the same country as the rest of America. From the outside view, SF is viewed as a liberal, progressive heaven. And that’s true, to an extent. Like, if I ever decide to have a boyfriend again, I know I can walk around the city and hold his hand and I’ll feel safe. I know that people are generally more lax towards marijuana use, that we have a fantastic network to support public transportation and commuting via bicycle, that being a vegan here is remarkably easy, and…well, I could keep going on and on. All these things are true.

But there’s a pervasive, insidious side to the city that bothers me and I don’t find it anywhere else. Given how “open” or “accepting” people can be, it feels like there are droves of people (most who weren’t born here, strangely) who believe that living in San Francisco alone makes them progressive, that their actions are negated by simply living in the city. And that’s a really weird thing to see! There’s this disconnect between the way people act and what they say. This is supposed to be a liberal, caring city, but SF passed a law prohibited homeless people from sleeping/sitting on sidewalks from 7am to 11pm. No, take like five seconds to think about that and your brain explodes from how goddamn absurd that is. What’s so boggling is that the law technically says any person cannot sit or lay on a sidewalk, but that’s just legal talk for saying, “Hey, homeless people, we don’t want to see you at all.”

On top of this barely-hidden classism is A WHOLE LOT OF RACISM. Blatant, unintentional, and casual…it’s all there. There is a ridiculous amount of gentrification here, and there are parts of the city where it is a quest to find a single person of color. That’s not unique to San Francisco. I admit that. But what’s so bizarre is that San Franciscans routinely are completely oblivious to how their city looks to an outsider who isn’t white.

Here’s a great example of that: I live in Oakland. My neighborhood is mostly people of color. I cannot count how many times I have told people I live here and people from the city ask me if I’m safe. Or if I’ve ever been shot at. Or saw grimaces on faces, or body language that showed disgust at the very name of my city. Once, I asked someone in the Mission district in San Francisco where a specific intersection was, and he looked like he was going to throw up on me. “Ew, why would you go down there?” The place I wanted to go? Down past Caesar Chavez, which, if you’re not familiar, is where a lot of people of color live in San Francisco.

These things do manifest themselves in other cities and that’s not what I’m trying to point out. That’s not what makes San Francisco a ~special snowflake.~ It’s a combination of the good and the bad at the same time. To say anything else would be ignoring an entire section of this city that truly isn’t like anywhere else in the United States. It’s the good food and the hatred of the poor; it’s the gorgeous hills and the lack of acknowledgment of how white supremacy still works in quiet, unseen ways; it’s the history that we see everyday and the history that we erase. San Francisco is a giant paradox, a constant contradiction, and even my feelings about this place are diametrically opposed. That is what makes this place unlike any other place in America.

Oh, and Oakland rules. Haters can obey the left-hand evacuation procedure immediately.

OKAY HEY EVERYONE, AMERICAN GODS, THIS IS AWESOME. So, Easter is a god! Well, only the Easter derived from the Eostre of the Dawn. So is this an outright confirmation that different versions of the same god exist? Is there a god for the Easter that represents bunnies and chocolate eggs? Or one for those who associate it with Jesus? (Though…wouldn’t that just be Jesus?) Oh god, I just have ~so many questions~ that ~really deserve answers~.

Did anyone else find Wednesday’s interrogation of the waitress AND his takedown of Easter to be a bit….harsh? Maybe necessary in Easter’s case, but Wednesday is kind of an asshole. Which is fine because I like characters who don’t make good decisions or who are irritating or who are complex because who doesn’t. Well, actually, a lot of people don’t like that, but we’re dealing with a god who is so inconceivably old and arrogant that it’s actually in character for him to be so…lordly. He’s presumptive, crude, and is perfectly content treating characters like this, and I’ll be damned if there’s a way he’ll change any of this over the course of the novel. But I also have to remember that he and the other gods need belief, and in large, genuine amounts, to continue to survive in America, and that at least must influence why he would be so rude to Easter, or why he tries to con the waitress out of a mere ten dollars.

What a weird sentence to type. They’re hanging out with Easter.

I had mentioned before that there are two distinct moments in this chapter that show us how Shadow is reminded that he is still an outsider in Lakeside. I don’t think it is necessarily related to the color of his skin and there’s no info or subtext at all to give me pause. He is simply the newest person in town, and he was gone for a day while helping Wednesday. In that time, Alison McGovern, the girl from the greyhound that Shadow briefly spoke to when he arrived in Lakeside, has gone missing. Even if Chad Mulligan doesn’t mean to frighten Shadow, he does for a brief moment when he asks Shadow where he was the time before. And maybe this is that subtext, that Shadow knows he’s a brown dude in a city in Wisconsin that doesn’t have a whole lot of people that look like him in it, but we’ve also gotten no real sign that this might be the case. For him, though, he knows that his identity is a lie, and he has just gotten out of prison for a violent crime. He has no desire to go back to that place.

I’m wondering if this disappearance has anything to do with a larger story in this book. We were introduced to the disappearance of Marguerite’s son in this chapter, and now someone else disappears suddenly. After a long search around town, which Shadow joins, there’s not a single clue to what happened to her. When Shadow runs into the other girl from the Greyhound bus, Sophie, she says something that’s strange to me:

“I’m leaving this fucking town,” said the girl in a sudden, choked voice. “I’m going to live with my mom in Ashland. Alison’s gone. Sandy Olsen went last year. Jo Ming the year before that. What if it’s me next year?”

“I thought Sandy Olsen was taken by his father.”

“Yes, said the girl, bitterly. “I’m sure he was. And Jo Ming went out to California, and Sarah Lindquist got lost on a trail hike and they never found her. Whatever. I want to go to Ashland.”

It could all be a coincidence. It could all not matter at all. But people disappear. Or they leave. But why would Gaiman introduce these two girls and then include them further in this story? OH GOD I COULD BE SO WRONG, BUT I AM TRYING TO GUESS HERE.

Coming to America
1778

What I really enjoy about this entire concept is that Gaiman never does that thing where he thinks it’s totally edgy and hilarious to poke fun at religions that seem foreign and bizarre. “There was a girl, and her uncle sold her,” he begins, in this extremely lengthy story about Wututu and how she became a slave in America. None of this is to belittle her belief, to make it seem strange, or to “other” her as so many other authors might do. In fact, this entire section is a celebration of her beliefs more than anything else. 

(It’s nice to finally understand why Mr. Ibis was telling stories before this. Now I get it! I UNDERSTAND SOMETHING.)

At the same time, I think it’s okay to acknowledge that I have no personal experience with any of this, that all of my knowledge about this is secondhand, that I don’t know what this is like at all. So I also don’t know if Gaiman has properly done this all the respect it deserves, but I think he does. The story is beautifully told, respects the fact that the slave trade was openly racist and destroyed lives, and also doesn’t ignore that there were people with their own lives and beliefs and agency who were slaves. BUT–and that “but” is important–I am utterly detached from this all. This story could be problematic as all hell, and I genuinely don’t know if it is.

I don’t normally do this, but I think it’s okay to just say SO I THINK THIS MIGHT BE WEIRD, and I want to sit this one out in terms of commenting on it. Instead, I am interested to know if there are any readers here who have a better knowledge of this than myself, have any experience, or anything of the sort. How does this story read to you? Do you think Gaiman did a fine job telling Wututu’s story?

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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90 Responses to Mark Reads ‘American Gods’: Chapter 11

  1. kmz says:

    I know you've probably already heard this, but you should really read Sandman at some point. Even if not for markreads, but just for your own enjoyment. I've actually felt increasingly disaffected with Gaiman, but American Gods and Sandman are still gorram awesome. (Good Omens too, but then we get into Pratchett and how Discworld is one of the greatest literary achievements of the last few decades and then I'll never stop talking. But you should really read Discworld too, when you get a chance. There's only 30 or so books so far. 🙂 )

  2. Wututu's story has stayed with me the most of anything from any book ever, maybe. But Gaiman is white and so am I, so that comes with a bucket of salt. I'm really not sure. But just like the story of the girl with the pixies and Salim, the thread of that person's belief through their suffering, i think, and the way their entire life is presented so matter-of-factly–it connects you to them, i guess, makes you feel like they're real. And the thing is they might as well be. Wututu happened millions of times. Millions. And you know that fact in a dry sort of way but being given that person's story from birth to death is another thing.

    I also think it's really telling that it took what is arguably a weirdo fantasy book written by a white Brit to get that story to me. Wtf that says about my reading habits or the slant of my education I don't even want to think.

  3. Noybusiness says:

    Mark, there's no cut on this review!

  4. cait0716 says:

    This is probably my favorite chapter in the entire book. It's so emotionally draining, as one tragedy after another gets piled on. And this gets compounded by the beginning of the short story when Gaiman asks the reader to open his/her heart and not shy away from the pain, even as the magnitude of that pain is simply incomprehensible.

    Marguerite's missing son and the disappearance of Allison are heartbreaking. As idyllic as this town seems, it's not totally immune from the horrors of the rest of the world.

    We also meet Easter, who thinks she's doing fine and dandy. But Wednesday points out that all that belief she's been sustaining herself on is just so many empty calories. She's not actually doing any better than any of the other old gods. It seems like she was in denial up until Wednesday's rude awakening.

    And then there's the Coming to America story, which is one of my favorite parts of this book. (Like Mark, I can't speak to whether or not it's problematic, but I mostly trust Gaiman to be respectful and well-researched). The framing of this story is amazing and I can feel myself laying my heart bare as it begins. Gaiman is telling the reader that this happened, this happened to people in numbers too large to comprehend. Even the tragedies of Wututu's single life are uncountable. The separation from her brother, the beatings and rapings and separations from her children. Watching all of the horrors that she has experienced being inflicted on her children in their turn. So many hurts that she can't even remember the early ones by the end of her life. As I said, it's emotionally draining. I always have to put the book down after this chapter and take a step back, remembering that I'm lucky I can put the story away and return to my own, relatively pleasant life.

    • sauce. says:

      You shouldn't always trust Gaiman just because; he's a good writer, but he's said some pretty problematic things in the past.

  5. pennylane27 says:

    I have the same problem as you Mark, all my knowledge of slave trade is second hand, and even though we studied it at school, the Spanish never brought that many slaves from Africa to my country, there were enough natives for that. So I agree that the story is beautifully told, and I think that it's okay, but I can't know for sure.

    Also when I read this: He wished he'd thought of the library himself. my immediate thought was Neither Hermione nor I would ever have this problem.

  6. Ryan Lohner says:

    Oh, I adore libraries too. In fact, I have a master's degree in library science (with the invaluable help of the staff of my hometown library, which was voted the best in the state a couple years ago).

  7. Mary Sue says:

    Oakland rules.
    True story, yo.

    I grew up in the hick town of Napa (yes, now it's the playground of the idle rich, I'm older than 90% of the wineries), spent most of my high school years goofing off in Oakland/Berkeley, spent most of my college years driving down from Chico to hang out around Lake Merritt.

    Merritt Bakery, dude.
    Seriously.
    Miss that place a LOT. Especially on Sunday mornings.

    But, you know, now I live in Portland. Which is kind of like the best parts of Oakland and SF rolled into one. With some of the same problems, but fewer people so therefore, a slightly smaller percentage of jackassery.

    Still, I would move home in a heartbeat if I could get a job.

    Ok, so now that I've gone back and read the REST of the post that wasn't about how awesome Oakland is, my answer as a historian is yes. Wututu's story is told very well, and is probably one of the best pieces of historical speculative fiction out there when taken as a whole with the rest of American Gods.

  8. Maya says:

    My college town beats San Fran for fuckery where the homeless are concerned. I went to school next to a relatively famous tourist attraction, so the town buses the homeless people away so the tourists won’t see them.

  9. John Small Berries says:

    "But there’s an entire world stacked underneath ours"

    That's one of the recurring themes in Gaiman's works (none more explicit than in Neverwhere, which I think you'd also enjoy quite a bit), and one of the reasons I love his stories so much. The idea that there are all these fantastic things going on just under our noses, of which we go about our lives blissfully unaware – but might get caught up in if we wander into just the right place at just the right time – is one of my favorites.

    • cait0716 says:

      This is one of my favorite things about his works, too. When I'm reading one of his books it feels like I could tumble into another world if I only had the knowledge or luck to get there.

  10. I have encountered more casual racism in the Bay Area than I ever encountered growing up in Texas. TEXAS.

    The one that takes the cake, of course, is the time I was looking to buy a used car, and the dealer, with all sincerity, simply to put into perspective how long I may want to keep said car, asked me if I was going back to my country.

    • elusivebreath says:

      -.-

    • knut_knut says:

      …how do you even respond to that?

      • "No, I'm staying."

        (I LIVE DOWN THE STREET, SIR. I WAS BORN IN SAN FRAN-FUCKING-CISCO. THIS IS MY COUNTRY.)

        • knut_knut says:

          congratulations on not setting him or yourself on fire!

        • arctic_hare says:

          How did you not punch this asshole? My compliments on your restraint.

          • I was far too baffled to be angry. And he wasn't addressing me like some dirty furriner or something; he was asking out of practicality to determine what kind of car to show me. If I were going back to my country, I wouldn't need a car that would last years and years. It was just so bizarre that he thought it was an appropriate thing to say.

            On the other hand, I did have to restrain the urge to punch a woman on an airplane who asked me where I was from and, when I said I was from Oakland, responded, "No, you're from India."

            • arctic_hare says:

              UGH. NO. FAIL. On both their parts. :@

            • knut_knut says:

              How kind of her to correct you! I mean, how would YOU know where you’re from? -_- I HAAATE when people ask me where I’m from and when I say here they go “no, ORIGINALLY”. Um…still here?

            • xpanasonicyouthx says:

              I MEAN.

              I SHOULD RE-CAP THE IKEA STORY

              there is so much casual racism in the Bay!!!!

              • I think it's completely what you said, that because it's so "progressive" here, people don't think they're being racist. Like they think that informing me that I am "Pakistani" is actually enlightened behavior, how brave and daring of them to acknowledge that I am of a different race than they are.

                • elusivebreath says:

                  For some reason this puts me in mind of the website "stuff white people like" lol.

                  • I actually feel like I've gotten more of that behavior from black people, though it's usually people I'm passing on the street making bizarre remarks to me rather than people trying to have conversations with me. I've gotten random "Namaste"s and "Salaam alaikum"s (which, FOR FUCK'S SAKE), and then there was the very belligerent homeless woman who thought that beginning a conversation with "You're from India, right?" was a great idea, and responding to my resigned answer of "Technically" with "Are you from Fiji?" was an even BETTER idea, and would certainly incline me toward giving her a dollar.

                    My only explanation is that it's all part of the "progressive" thing; we're both non-white, let's definitely acknowledge that in awkward and uncomfortable ways, that'll bring us closer together!

              • elusivebreath says:

                I remember you tweeting about that and I could not even believe that that actually happened. Seriously, what.

            • ChronicReader91 says:

              …What the fuck? She TOLD YOU where YOU were from? I just… I can't even…

            • I WILL TELL YOU WHERE YOU ARE FROM, STRANGER!

              loooord.

  11. Yay! I FINALLY caught up to current with Mark Reads! My book arrived this weekend, so the past few days I have been reading like mad to catch up. It's going to be hard to read this a chapter a day now…

    LOVE THIS BOOK so far. This whole idea of gods existing because of belief, and being brought to america, and… yeah. Just cool.

    I also fall more in love with Lakeside with every chapter we spend there. I hope, when all this is over, Shadow can live there for realz. I think he could be really happy there.

    Missing girl/children. Okay, I don't want to go back and look for it, because I feel like that would ruin it somehow, but didn't Sam mention that she had a cousin or something that went missing? Coincidence?! Maybe. Bad memory on my part?! Probably.

    • Lady X says:

      If memory serves me right( reading a chapter a day too 🙂 ) it was her half-sisters son that got kidnapped by her ex. I believe it said around last winter so I’m guessing it could have been Marguerite Olsens’ son but I doubt it.

  12. Angelllla24 says:

    Today on Neil Gaimans blog is a quote that fits perfectly…
    “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one” -Neil Gaiman

  13. elusivebreath says:

    Mark, your story about San Francisco resonants with me so much! I live in the (far)East Bay, and going to San Francisco for shows and concerts and Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz and Chinatown has always been a huge thing for me. I LOVE the City and I always wanted to live there. My older daughter always felt the same way, and last year she moved to Treasure Island (for Job Corps) and after living there for a year and taking bus and BART all over the city for her job and her school, she HATES it. I never thought I'd hear a bad word about SF come out of her mouth and I was genuinely surprised by a lot of the stories she tells me, and sort of depressed too.

    Funny thing about Oakland, I have actually only been there ONCE and only because we were passing through (I think we were going to Alameda or something??) and the car broke down. I was sort of terrified because I was lost and broke down and hence Oakland always reminds me of that awful sensation of being helpless in a strange place. Not fair to the city itself, I know.

  14. monkeybutter says:

    Ah, Wednesday is such an ass. I'm glad to hear that my Cadbury egg habit makes Easter happy, even if it isn't real worship.

    What I really enjoy about this entire concept is that Gaiman never does that thing where he thinks it’s totally edgy and hilarious to poke fun at religions that seem foreign and bizarre.

    I agree. The gods are real and walking, and their effects and powers are felt, so none of the Coming to America segments seem to be presented as weird or in an otherwise degrading way. But I also can't speak with certainty about that.

  15. Zozo says:

    “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” — Anatole France

  16. knut_knut says:

    I have no idea what it’s like to live in a place as cold as Lakeside, but is it really normal for kids to disappear every year? I mean…it’s a small town, shouldn’t they be worried that every year a kid goes missing? No? Maybe I watch too much Criminal Minds.

    I was also pretty annoyed that Chad described Marguerite as looking like “something crawled up her ass and died”. HER SON IS MISSING! AND she has a wonderfully abusive ex-husband! I’m sure it’s true, but why would you say that? Couldn’t he have just skipped that part and gone straight into the story?

    *sigh* I am full of silly complaints today.

  17. Hecubot says:

    Not that I don't have my own issues with San Francisco after living here for 25 years but I would like to note:

    "Traveling to SF every day on BART is like watching a parade of the most privileged and entitled assholes on the entire planet."

    This parade of entitled assholes you are traveling with on BART don't live in San Francisco. They live in the suburbs or the East Bay and work in the Financial District.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Sure, but they are IN SF while I am there.

      It's a Bay Area-wide thing, for sure. Places like Walnut Creek (WHO HELD A RALLY IN SUPPORT OF THE BART COP WHO SHOT OSCAR GRANT!!!!!!!!!) and Lafayette and Orinda are home to these folks too.

  18. roguebelle says:

    I remember being so pleased with myself when I first read this that, if Wednesday had asked me, I totally would've scored a point for Easter.

    What I like about this chapter is how part of Wututu's story mirrors, in a very vague but still thoughtful way, Easter's. Not anything about slavery, but about … religious appropriation, I guess would be a better term than cultural appropriation. Wututu's apprentice doesn't really believe, she doesn't have that marrow-deep intimate knowledge of the gods she's using, just as the millions of people hiding eggs and eating bunny-shaped chocolates don't have any real knowledge of or belief in Eostre of the Dawn. There's something there about the American mindset of religion as a tool, about the cavalier way we treat these things. It's one of those subtler threads that Gaiman's so good at drawing between things — he doesn't hit you over the head with the point, but he puts it out there and lets it happen in your head.

  19. arctic_hare says:

    I haven’t quite figured out why I desire living close to the ocean so much, but it’s a big factor in living where I choose to live.

    Because the ocean is one of the greatest things on Earth and it's natural to want to live by it. The idea of living somewhere land-locked sends chills down my spine, no lie. I just can't be too far away from it, it freaks me out.

    Also, libraries are like the best places on earth, period. But you already know about my obsession with them. <3

    As I said the other day, Wednesday is a total asshole and it makes complete sense to me. Odin wasn't very nice in any of the old stories, and I wouldn't expect an incarnation of him that's even older and more bitter to be any kinder. I always felt so sorry for Easter when he upset her.

    The Coming to America segment is beautifully written, and heartbreaking, but I have no authority either to tell you if it's problematic or not.

  20. Patrick721 says:

    Mark, when you talked about whether there was a god who represented the part of easter that was all about chocolate and candy, all I could think of was the Tom Waits song "Chocolate Jesus".

    Also, fuck yeah libraries!

    • elusivebreath says:

      Omg LOVE THAT SONG lol!! James Marsters covered it and that just made me love it more <3

      • Patrick721 says:

        Wait, what? The Dresden Files audiobooks have made me fan of him, so why haven't I heard of this?

  21. AmyAmy says:

    Easter is a god! Well, only the Easter derived from the Eostre of the Dawn. So is this an outright confirmation that different versions of the same god exist? Is there a god for the Easter that represents bunnies and chocolate eggs? Or one for those who associate it with Jesus? (Though…wouldn’t that just be Jesus?) Oh god, I just have ~so many questions~ that ~really deserve answers~.

    I actually don't think she's a representation of the holiday but rather the goddess, Eostre (Ostara in German), who gave her name to the festival that was then co-opted by Christians. She gets some power/life/whatever because the current Easter holiday apes the traditions of her festival, but without any belief/understanding/worship behind it it's hollow (like a chocolate bunny. mmmm). So, yeah, I think her (doing much better for himself) parallel would be Jesus. Or maybe, in the modern-god-war-thingy, it's the Cadbury Bunny.

  22. ChronicReader91 says:

    Yay for library love! I could spend all day in my local library if I could, I swear. One of my favorite places in the world. And I don’t exactly have tons of money to spend on books and DVD’s, so it’s only because my local library is so well stocked that I was able to participate in the blogs for His Dark Materials, BSG and now this book.<3

    San Francisco is one of those places I’ve decided I have to visit before I die, but the more I hear about it, the more I’m sure I don’t want to live there.

    “We’re going to San Francisco. The flowers in your hair are optional.”LOL! Wednesday is such an ass, but that cracked me up.

    EASTER! I think I actually mentioned Eostre in an earlier post, wondering if she was going to show up. I don’t think it’s fair of Wednesday to say that NO ONE knows where the word Easter comes from- I mean, it’s true that they don’t exactly teach that at church, but I think that there are enough people who know about mythology and the history of religion so that the incarnation of Easter we see here can survive. Also, while I’m sure there are some self-described Pagans who are like the waitress, I’ve known a couple, and from what they tell me among the community it’s really strongly encouraged to research whatever gods and goddesses you want to worship before you make a commitment to be a Pagan. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert or authority in this area, but it just feels like Gaiman was going for a stereotype there to make a point.

    Shadow and Wednesday seem to represent two different moral codes here. Wednesday seems to believe that it’s all right to wrong someone if you justify it as justice for all the crappy things they’ve done in their life, but Shadow maintains than wrong is wrong, regardless of what someone has done, and besides, everyone has fucked up in some ways, so you can pretty much justify doing anything to anyone that way. I wonder if Shadow feels that way partially because it’s so personal for him, having been in jail and probably still being judged pretty unfairly by anyone who finds that out. He doesn’t pass judgement, which is another reason he's awesome.

    These might be spoilers, so Rot-13 just in case: Gur fgbel bs Fnaql Byfra’f qvfnccrnenapr fbhaqrq n ybg yvxr jung Fnz jnf gryyvat Funqbj nobhg ure unys-fvfgre’f fbaf qvfnccrnenapr. Fb rvgure guvf obbx vf nyy nobhg zvffvat puvyqera, be Znethrevgr Byfra vf Fnz’f unys-fvfgre.

    • arctic_hare says:

      Agreed about Shadow. He rules.

    • threerings says:

      Also, while I’m sure there are some self-described Pagans who are like the waitress, I’ve known a couple, and from what they tell me among the community it’s really strongly encouraged to research whatever gods and goddesses you want to worship before you make a commitment to be a Pagan.

      Ah, yes. This is actually where Gaiman really pissed me off the first time I read this book. At the time I was a practicing Pagan (was for over ten years before becoming atheist). And EVERY Pagan I ever knew would be able to tell you about Eostre/Ostara. Ostara is the name commonly used for one of the major Wiccan holidays, and is taught in every intro to Wicca book out there.

      It highlights a problem I had all through this book, actually, that I knew that there were hundreds of thousands of people in America who were actively worshiping the old gods. Some of them, sure, got more attention than others, and I don't have a problem with the basic idea, but he really doesn't address that there's a whole group of people out there doing what he says they aren't doing any more. It was a little hard to accept his premise, when I was regularly going to festivals with thousands of people ritually worshipping Norse gods, Egyptian Gods, Celtic, Sumerian, etc. This is the only point that he does address it, and he does it by making the one representative of NeoPaganism be a complete idiot. Not cool.

      I enjoyed my second reading of American Gods more because I was able to approach it more as a work of fiction and less as a book related to my religion. Also, I was probably less politically minded about my religion by that point.

    • notemily says:

      Yeah, plus, short-changing the waitress wouldn't have made her a BETTER person. It just adds bad to bad. I like that Shadow doesn't judge.

  23. threerings says:

    Ok, I am SO GLAD you said what you did about San Francisco. I have had two separate friends move from Texas (you know, the stereotypical conservative, racist, backwards state) move to California and specifically San Francisco (liberal mecca where everyone is always happy) and return after a couple of years complaining that California was just too racist for them.

    Just, it's so frustrating to be constantly defending Texas to people online who think we're all horrible people for living in this state. Yes, we like guns and between 50-52% of our population votes Republican. But, seriously, glass houses, stones…. ARGH.

    I also would say that some of the classist and borderline racist attitudes you describe remind me of the time I spent in New York. With the parts of town white people don't go to, and the assumption of money, and then naturally the inherent superiority people feel as a result simply of living in NYC. Yeah, I only stayed two years until I moved back to Texas into a ethnically diverse neighborhood of queers and artists where trees stay green all year round.

    • sabra_n says:

      NYC's so ginormous you can find a diversity of attitudes depending on where you look. Then again, my best NYC friend isn't white, so. The kind of racism I'm familiar with firsthand is the suburban variety, where oh, they'll vote Democratic and talk the talk, but everyone was So Concerned when they found out I was living in West Philadelphia. *facepalm* They're also Concerned about the 2-3 Mexican kids in the entire school district bringing down the average scores, and Concerned about black people from the poorer town next door, who surely commit all the crimes that happen in my much whiter hometown. Just…ugh.

  24. John Small Berries says:

    So is this an outright confirmation that different versions of the same god exist?

    Earlier in the book – page 124, in my copy, but I don't know if we've got the same edition – Mama-ji says, "Back in India, there is an incarnation of me who does much better, but so be it."

    • Mandi says:

      When I read that line all I could think of was all those children who are made out to be "incarnations" of the gods because of physical deformities, but your context makes more sense.

  25. fandomphd says:

    Okay so this is totally unrelated to everything substantive you have just said but … is the last paragraph of this post in a different color font? Or are my eyes being weird?

  26. Stella says:

    Mark, I've been following your literary journey ever since I stumbled across your "Mark Reads Twilight" posts at Buzznet. Then I discovered that you had read the HP series and adored reading your thoughts on it. I'm so excited you're reading American Gods!! Gaiman is one of my favorite authors and I've been having a blast reading your posts about it. I just wanted to point out real quick that Gaiman didn't write this book right after he moved here. I don't know when he actually moved to the US but he's lived in the Minnesota since the early 90's. But you're right — for someone who lived here less than a decade (at the time), he conveys what life in America is like with terrifying accuracy, lol.

  27. SorrowsSolace says:

    Wututu and Agasu's story is one of my favourite parts of the book. I have a huge soft spot for it. To me there's not problematic bits about how he's telling it, it's a mix of acceptance, pain and blunt truth that mixes in all together. It's not anvilicious and it doesn't need to be, the characters live in those few pages (Gaiman is so so good at that. There's a short story in the preface of one of his anthologies "Zmoke and Mirrors" that has that same element)

    Rot'd for a song relating to American Gods and other stuff:

    Njuvyr ntb gurl oebhtug bhg n PQ "Jurer'f Arvy Jura Lbh Arrq Uvz" pubpx shyy bs fbatf gung cnl ubzntr gb uvf obbxf. Bar vf "Rira Tbqf Qb" ol Gurn Tvyzber. uggc://jjj.lbhghor.pbz/jngpu?i=hB5fM2NiB5H.

    Nyfb, va gur obbx "Sentvyr Guvatf" gurer'f n frdhry abiryyn sbe NT, pnyyrq "Gur Zbanepu bs gur Tyra", vs lbh unira'g urneq bs vg, purpx vg bhg!

    • sploo says:

      I, too, really like this story. I have been listening to the full cast audiobook of the 10th anniversary edition and Neil himself reads this section as opposed to the actors reading the other parts. Upon listening to this chapter again, I decided that I like it so much because it's told so dispassionately. Horrible, horrible things happen to the twins but we can endure the horror because it happens at enough of a distance.

      I am by no means an expert on the history of the African slave trade but have read enough to know that the descriptions are solidly based in historical detail. It struck me, though that this Coming to America story may have be the one most directly connected to a religion that modern day folk continue to practice.

  28. notemily says:

    A week to get a library card! What type of bullshit is this. In Milwaukee we can make you a card in five minutes if you have proof of address and a photo ID.

    I don't know of anyone who's been sent to prison for stealing library books, although several people have been sent to the collections agency downtown. I generally feel bad for those people, though–they don't have enough money to pay for their lost books and now they have to pay extra in collection fees. There are hundreds of people in the library system who owe money on books never returned, from five or ten or fifteen years ago, and it makes me sad to think that they'll never go back to the library again because they can't afford the payment.

    "Just a little prestidigitation, ma'am." I love Shadow's vocabulary.

    Jenny Kerton, by the way, is not a real-life author. Nccneragyl fur'f n punenpgre sebz Fgneqhfg! Be engure, n cerdhry gb Fgneqhfg gung Arvy jebgr gung nccrnef va fbzr irefvbaf; V qba'g guvax V'ir rire ernq vg.

    I like Shadow buying the book he thinks others will be least likely to buy, just to do the library a favor. I should go to book sales and do that, except that I have way too many books already.

    I had a boyfriend once who failed out of college, but was too ashamed to tell anyone, so he would still go every day and pretend he was going to class, while really just sitting in the student union reading and such. That's not too bad, but I also have a friend whose husband was a secret alcoholic for a year, during which time they had an infant daughter that he could have killed in drunken carelessness. Thankfully she was fine, but there were a couple of close calls when he was supposed to be looking after her and she fell down some stairs, things like that. Anyway, as you can imagine, my friend was pretty pissed when he finally told her.

    I… don't really understand that kind of pretense. I can't keep it up. My life is what it is. But social pressures are so high, I guess I can understand the urge to pretend that life is fine and everything is in order. It just seems like that illusion will inevitably crumble, so why keep it up?

    NO HARMING KITTENS, OKAY. NO. HARMING. KITTENS. (I foster them, and they're such helpless tiny creatures at first, and I just can't deal with people deliberately harming them. They die all the time, from disease and from cold and from under-nutrition, and it makes me so sad every time. There's a thing called Fading Kitten Syndrome that's basically the feline equivalent of SIDS. So, yeah, I know there's a cat overpopulation problem and all, but please don't hurt kittens.)

    Nyy bs gur cvrprf bs gur Ynxrfvqr zlfgrel ner gurer evtug sebz gur fgneg, juvpu vf jul gur erirny vf travhf. Gur pyhaxre tbrf bhg ba gur ynxr naq n tvey tbrf zvffvat. Vg'f boivbhf va uvaqfvtug.

    I get kind of sick of women being constantly evaluated on their beauty in this book. I know it's from Shadow's perspective, but when the policeman asks him to come help look for the girl and he says yes because he remembers thinking about how beautiful she would look when she grew up, I just roll my eyes. Yes, because that is her most important quality that should make you want to look for a MISSING TEENAGER.

    Cue people telling me I'm overreacting again.

    I read Roots a few years ago, and while the story isn't as compelling towards the end, the beginning and the part with the slave ship will never leave my mind. Which is not a bad thing–I don't think it's something we should ever forget, not just the facts of slavery but the details of how horrible it is. This chapter reminds me a lot of that book.

    And I kind of love Haiti for being a country founded on a successful slave revolt. Like you Mark, I feel like I don't really know what I'm talking about when I talk about slavery, so forgive me if I say anything harmful in this comment. But I just want to stand up and cheer for Haiti sometimes.

    Is the reference to the beats spreading across America and still not being enough, is that a reference to popular music, blues, hip-hop, other African-influenced styles? The beats have become popular everywhere in America, but the gods are still lost?

    V gbgnyyl qvqa'g trg gung vg jnf Qryvevhz naq Oneanonf jr fnj ng gur cnex hagvy bgure crbcyr cbvagrq vg bhg. JUNG.

    In conclusion, I can't really think about San Francisco without hearing Eddie Izzard's voice in my head.

    [youtube VJ19ahNyM3I http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJ19ahNyM3I youtube]

  29. Black Cloister says:

    You're twice as likely to be a crime victim in Oakland as you are in San Francisco. An SF resident worrying about crime in Oakland is probably just worrying about crime in Oakland.

  30. tzeentchling says:

    Out of curiosity, what part of Oakland do you live in, Mark? I grew up in the part between Montclair and Glenview, off Park Blvd. Mostly white, but hell, even Skyline was majority minority. I like to think it helps me deal with real life better than if I had grown up in some suburb. Also, my freshman year roommate was from a small, mostly white town in Oregon and he was fascinated by the fact that I grew up in Oakland and knew black people. Amused the heck out of me.

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