In the twelfth chapter of American Gods, HOLY SHIT THIS GOT SO REAL INCREDIBLY QUICKLY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read American Gods.
Holy shit. HOLY SHIT.
A lot has just happened in this book A whole lot. This is the longest chapter so far, and I actually wrote around a thousand words for this post and it was so disheveled and all over the place that I’m starting over. That’s a good thing, by the way. I have basically been shocked into incoherency. All of the information that Gaiman has given me so far is finally coming together, and then he decides to drop like a thousand head-explosion bombs on me and then OH BY THE WAY THE WAR STARTED LOL. He is cackling right now, isn’t he? He has no idea this blog exists, but he has a deep-seeded knowledge of whenever someone reaches this chapter, and he just cackles quietly to himself. That is just part of Neil Gaiman’s life, isn’t it?
This will also hopefully give you some insight into how I’m able to write these reviews so frequently and quickly, as I am going to split this up as I do my notes. Whenever I’m reading a book for Mark Reads (and generally I do the same during Mark Watches, though for some particularly gripping episodes, I don’t write a note for like…forty minutes straight), I write down important things I want to discuss or reflect upon in my review. Sometimes I write things down by hand, sometimes it’s in TextEdit on my computer. Either way, they’re generally these ridiculous little phrases or sentences that I know will trigger the exact thought I had in that moment. I tend to use ~Parallel Love~ whenever characters, behaviors, plots, etc., are paralleled with each other because there are few techniques I love more in fiction. If I’m reading something and get inspired to write one of those “alternate” reviews I haven’t done in a while, I might jot that idea down and then take note of everything that supports it.
(As a side note: It really has been quite some time since I’ve done those alternate reviews, and I do miss this. But I always told myself I would never force myself to come up with alternate narratives just for the sake of it. But I also realized that for nearly everything after The Hunger Games, I haven’t picked a book or a series that is…well, funny. Like I’m sorry, I’m not going to poke fun at the Holocaust or the end of all universes at the hands of God. And while I certainly think that having a sense of humor going in to this really helps, it’s never quite manifested itself like it did during Twilight or Harry Potter. That being said, I think it is going to be remarkably easy to pull them off–and quite often–during The Lord of the Rings. I anxiously await those days.)
I knew this review could turn out to be a disaster when I realized I was skipping around and trying to fill in the gaps for all the notes I took. I generally write reviews chronologically unless I have some fantastic idea/point that I want to execute before I forget it. Most of those super long/story time reviews were written out of order. But today’s post? Frankly, it was a hot mess. I was trying to link things together, remember past plot points without Googling them because
and we all know SPOILERS are the death of me. So, in lieu of a possibly sloppy vomit of words, let’s re-create my notes instead, shall we?
AMERICA IS OBSESSED WITH RECENT HISTORY
When I talk with my friends who don’t live in the United States, every so often I am reminded of how new my country is compared to those around the world. Perhaps that’s part of the reason that the culture of this place routinely highlights nostalgia for things that, in the grand scope of world history, really aren’t that old. Wednesday’s commentary about Mount Rushmore got me thinking about this. Now I know those presidents are important to our history, but this line struck me:
“Once they were carved, permission was granted, and now the people drive out in their multitudes to see something in the flesh that they’ve already seen on a thousand postcards.”
I mean RIGHT. I’m not a particularly tourist-y traveler and a lot of popular tourist traps hold no appeal to me. I don’t think I ever want to see those stone faces unless I can re-enact
South By Southwest LOL WHAT IS THAT MOVIE I mean North by Northwest and I realize that by saying that, that technically makes no sense but I DON’T CARE I FUCKING LOVE THAT MOVIE.
Oh, America. My love/hate relationship with you will never end. We’re like the most dramatic OTP ever, aren’t we? Oh god, that is not an invitation to write fic about me. OR IS IT.
BRAIN IS ON SAME WAVELENGTH AS SHADOW
He brings up the fact that people have disappeared from Lakeside. SEE? SEE??? I TOLD YOU. Something is up! Right, I have no idea, but it is something.
I THINK DWAYNE JOHNSON IS HOT
No, I really wrote that. I was reminded of a comment someone left last week when I suddenly realized Shadow might be black or biracial or mixed. So Neil Gaiman really imagines Shadow as Dwayne Johnson? That is brilliant and I don’t care if you judge me for thinking that man is a hunk. I used that word. I did. What are you going to do about it?
IS THE WINNEBAGO THE TARDIS
Yeah, so…American Gods has been kind of slow. Again, I’m totally okay with that! Everything I read doesn’t need to be the fastest, most intense plot of all time. And then Wednesday realizes that they’re being trapped in a roadblock, so he draws “rune-like scratchings” on the dashboard, orders Shadow to drive very specific speeds, and then make a sharp right turn off the road and then:
For a moment he thought he had been correct, that the camper was going to tip, and then the world through the windshield dissolved and shimmered, like the reflection in a clear pool when the wind brushes the surface, and the Dakotas stretched and shifted.
The clouds and the mist and the snow and the day were gone.
Now there were stars overhead, hanging like frozen spears of light, stabbing the night sky.
WHAT THE HOLY FUCK JUST HAPPENED? Did they just….NO SERIOUSLY WHAT IS HAPPENING. How can he do that? Are they in another world? Another location? ANOTHER UNIVERSE?? WEDNESDAY I THINK IT IS UNFAIR YOU WERE HIDING THESE POWERS.
WEDNESDAY YOU TOLD HIM NOT TO
Okay, while this was immensely satisfying to have acknowledged out loud in the book, I still laughed: Wednesday finally asks why Shadow never seems surprised by the weird shit that Wednesday puts him through. Which is a valid question, I think! But dude, you told him not to ask questions. So he’s just doing as he’s told? Okay, I’m being facetious.
And then he said, realizing the truth as the words came out of his mouth, “Anyway, nothing’s really surprised me since Laura.”
“Since she came back from the dead?”
“Since I learned she was screwing Robbie. That one hurt. Everything else just sits on the surface. Where are we going now?”
Okay, I have never been married and I was only with my first boyfriend for six months, but I found out he cheated on me after he dumped me. And good god, this is exactly how it feels. It’s a really hard sensation to bury in your heart. You constantly deny it and refuse to believe that someone could hurt you like that. Everything does sit on top of that. It almost takes over your every waking thought for a while before you accept it.
Yeah, sorry to get super serious there for a moment, but that’s what this book does to me! I can laugh at one line and then suddenly feel like I got a brick to the face the next one.
IS THIS THE FORBIDDEN FOREST
There’s a giant mechanical spider at the bottom of the hill where Shadow and Wednesday stand. What the fuck is going on?
WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING!!!
Shadow loses his footing and slides down the hill and when his hand touches a human thighbone (!!!!!!), he TRANSFERS TO ONE OF THE BAD GUYS. And he doesn’t become him, so much as he gains the ability to observe him through that man’s head. Oh, and he’s Mister Town. So he’s a god named Mister Town. I don’t even know how to process this.
Even stranger, the mind jump is so seamless that Shadow isn’t fully aware of what’s happening and one of his stray thoughts creeps into Mister Town’s mind: There was something very familiar about Mr. World’s voice. So…we’ve met Mister World. Who is he? The man from Las Vegas, maybe?
The entire conversation is a huge insight into what’s going on, even if it’s mostly ambiguous conversation, but this part was pretty blatant to me:
“It’s a pissing contest. I’ve proposed that we have it out here. The techies want it in Austin, or maybe San Jose, the players want it in Hollywood, the intangibles want it on Wall Street. Everybody wants it in their own back yard. Nobody’s going to give.”
AHHHHH HE’S TALKING ABOUT THE WAR. This is so fascinating to me! And we also get slang terms for the different groups of modern gods. The techies. The players. The intangibles! Ugh, this book is SO FUN TO READ.
BEHIND THE SCENES
This. Is. The. COOLEST. It’s like…shit, okay, I would spoil things if I tried to give examples. But it’s a moment in this book where everything has to change, where I am introduced to such a massive piece of this alternate world’s backbone that I remain simply in awe of what’s crafted here. There is a backstage for the gods. A BACKSTAGE. What is the spider? What are the bones? WHO CARES THERE IS A BACKSTAGE FOR THE GODS. Oh my god I WANT TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS.
“What was that spider thing?”
“A pattern manifestation. A search engine.”
Oh, I’m sorry, this is just so ridiculously spectacular. I DON’T GET THIS AND IT DOESN’T BOTHER ME AT ALL.
AS;DLKFJASDF JOHNNY APPLESEED ARE YOU KIDDING ME
He’s real. He’s in this book. I cannot fucking believe this. I love how casual this is, and I love how with each new god revealed, Gaiman is basically saying, “Oh, you have no idea what the scope of this thing is.” Every myth and legend and god is here and it’s a treat to see how Gaiman decides to use them. I mean PAUL BUNYAN. Oh god, Paul Bunyan is empty calories. And Wisakedjak is here, too. How much research would one person have to do to pull this off so well???
WINNEBAGOS ARE GODS
“Are you going to fetch your Ho Chunk?”
“Ho Chunk. It’s what the Winnebago call themselves.”
OH MY GOD ARE YOU SERIOUS. All of this is just accepted nomenclature at this point, and no one makes a big deal out of any of it.
[Edit: It's been pointed out to me that Winnebagos are NOT gods. Thanks, everyone! I UNDERSTAND NOTHING. They're still the TARDIS, though.]
THIS IS AWKWARD
There is a bizarre subtext/dynamic to the scene in the rec hall with Harry Bluejay. Why is there so much tension when Chapman tells Bluejay he’s suppose to give his car to Shadow and Wednesday? I get the feeling this whole town is full of gods. Was there another meaning to this scene?
NO IT IS THE TARDIS, I SWEAR
“So we set out January the what, twentieth, twenty-first? I wasn’t keep track of the dates, but it was the third week of January. We were three days on the road, all told. So how is it the fourteenth of February?”
“Because we walked for almost a month,” said Wednesday. “In the Badlands. Backstage.”
HOW. HOW IS THIS HAPPENING. So time backstage progresses faster than time in the real world? I AM BEWILDERED.
Chad Mulligan is kind of adorable, isn’t he? I love that he tries to pretend he’s not talking about Marguerite when he asks Shadow what he should do about someone he likes who make him like it back. It’s one of the few moments that Mulligan feels like an awkward teenager. I hope things work out for him.
I think it will be fun to come back to this section when I finish this book so I can try and guess who all the gods are that Shadow sees while he continues to travel with Wednesday. It was clear to me that Gaiman was trying to increase the pace of the novel at this point; he cycles through meetings with many gods in just a few paragraphs. I highly doubt that Gaiman doesn’t know exactly who all these gods are, but, again, I’m avoiding Google so that I don’t spoil myself. It also seems that Wednesday is pretty much hit or miss when it comes to recruiting gods. I started worrying that he wasn’t going to find enough gods to put up a good fight against the modern gods. How was this going to affect the war?
I think out of everything before this, Laura’s scene with Shadow in the cemetery is my favorite of hers so far. It’s alternately touching and horrifically depressing. Again, I must commend Gaiman for giving her agency, for making her her own person even though she is dead. She is just as much lost and hurt as Shadow is about this entire journey, even if they only seem to cross path periodically. But what this is really about leans more towards closure, and it sort of scared me that this happened before the book was done.
I expected a conversation about this to happen near the end, but Laura brings up a character trait of Shadow’s that had been driving the action: he does not seem to feel much at all, or he at least does not show it. She says he is not alive, which doesn’t mean that he is dead. She goes on to describe that Shadow, while he loved Laura fiercely, lacked vibrancy. He was always simply there, and it’s one of the main reasons she eventually ended up cheating on her husband while he was in prison.
It’s not an excuse so much as a reason. This is why it happened, and what I’ve seen of Shadow makes it hard for me to deny this.
It’s honestly a viciously depressing scene to me because they both clearly love and miss each other, but they simply cannot be together. I’m haunted by the image of her pulling away from his embrace only to sit at a picnic table to watch him leave.
THE WAR HAS BEGUN
And then the bomb drops and I don’t know how to feel anymore. Very matter-of-factly, Gaiman tells us that the war began before anyone on Wednesday’s side even knew it.
A falling girder in Manhattan closed a street for two days. It killed two pedestrians, an Arabic taxi-driver and the tax-driver’s passenger.
oh. my. god. The ifrit. He is dead. he is dead. I’m going to imagine that Salim was not in that taxicab.
Gaiman cycles through them. A trucker in Denver, who I do not recognize. A troll in Phoenix. Nine gods in Montana. A driver in Idaho. Destruction. Vandalism. The war has begun and no one even knows it yet.
The worst of them all is the Queen of Sheba, who comes to find out that the war has started in her own way. We know her as Bilquis. In Hollywood, off Sunset Blvd, she gets a possible customer, except it’s the worst one imaginable. (A bit of a side note: I know that it might be in-character or representative of the language used in that part of Los Angeles, but the use of misogynist language is a bit much for me. I mean, yes, people really do talk like that in Hollywood, so at least it is accurate, but just sayin’. It doesn’t distract me too much from the story, thankfully.) I mean as soon as I read this:
“I can pay for anything I want,” says the john. She leans into the car and looks around. There’s nobody else in there, just the john, a puffy-faced kid who doesn’t even look old enough to drink. Nobody else, so she gets in.
AH, CHRIST. DON’T DO THAT. It’s the technology god from earlier and THIS CANNOT END WELL. And it truly doesn’t, because the god wastes no time calling her my her real name. He also says something that actually might be the first real reason why the new gods want to eliminate the old ones:
“There’s only so much belief to go around. They’re reaching the end of what they can give us. The credibility gap.”
Well, shit. So now the new gods are losing their source of belief as well? How so?
We don’t find out much more, because Bilquis manages to leap out of the limo onto a hillside road above Hollywood. (I’m imagining it as Mulholland Drive.) Yet as she tries to scramble up the hillside to escape the car, she slips and falls and is ran over by the limousine. THREE TIMES.
When, finally, it drives away, down the hill, all it leaves behind on the road is the smeared red meat of roadkill, barely recognizable as human, and soon even that will be washed away by the rain.
GODDAMN IT, GAIMAN. WHY. WHY MUST YOU DO THIS.
SAMANTHA IS MARGUERITE’S
NIECE SISTER. HOW THE FUCK. HOW A;ASKLDFJ A;KJ A;SLKDFJ ;SLK;J A;DLFKJ
I don’t know why it hit me so hard, but the final interlude of chapter twelve belongs to Laura. She is getting a job at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, and the owner refers to her prospective hours as the “zombie shift” and I basically want to cry into my pillow forever.
What the hell has this book become. sweet christ.