In the ninth chapter of American Gods, Shadow learns more about Wednesday’s con artist past, and is then sent to a distant apartment to await his next assignment. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read American Gods.
Wednesday sure doesn’t have a lot of answers for Shadow, does he? I get that it’s part of Shadow’s job to not ask questions (and Wednesday certainly takes the time to point this out to Shadow), but after what he just went through, I expected that Wednesday might open up more to him. I’m thinking there’s a specific reason why he does this. What’s he hiding from Shadow? The man just suffered through being kidnapped, escaped, and then traveled all the way to Cairo, Illinois in order to stay safe. But the nature of this war that Wednesday is trying to wage seems to justify keeping silent. Wednesday confirms that a few other gods came to his side, but refuses to tell Shadow how they escaped the other gods. It’s kind of annoying, but this is just what Wednesday does.
Even if it happens a whole day later, Wednesday distracts the conversation away from anything recent or relevant. He really does seem like he enjoys talking, especially about himself and the past, and another familiar topic: young women. I’m starting to understand the context of it all, even if it is a tad bit creepy, as Wednesday’s character is actually fleshed out a lot in chapter nine. On Christmas day, he and Shadow eat lunch at a large family restaurant in Wisconsin, and it’s there that he hits on a very young waitress. A lot. Like…excessively. What’s so bizarre about it is not the fact that he’s hitting on her as much as how he does it. Wednesday does possess a form of charm, but it seems archaic to me. It would never work on my own attraction in a million years, but he seems to be aiming for some sort of gentlemanly sense of chivalry to appeal to young women.
AND IT WORKS. Like every time. Does he possess powers of seduction or something???
The bulk of the first half of chapter nine goes into great detail to introduce us to some of the con methods that Wednesday has used in his past. I’m beginning to understand the idea that all of these gods who exist in the fringes of America find their own ways to survive. Many chapters ago, Wednesday made it clear that he’s been getting by through some less-than-moral ways. He cons people. He cheats them and steals from them and he does it with a smile on his face and in his voice. He is not at all concerned about the ramifications of his actions, and that doesn’t just apply to the outcomes of his thieving. After explaining both the Fiddle Game and the Bishop Game to Shadow (all while continuing to hit on the waitress with more and more tenacity), Shadow wonders aloud if it’s prudent for Wednesday to sleep around so much. Even then, he cares not about diseases (which he says he doesn’t catch??? WHAT), nor about infidelity, nor about ruining relationships, nor about getting a girl pregnant. Wednesday’s real pleasant, isn’t he?
I also think that this may have helped me figure out one of Wednesday’s secrets. Before he and Shadow part ways, Shadow asks the Norse god if he ever had a partner, since all the grafts he described required two men, not him alone. Wednesday acknowledges that he did, but says the days have since passed. I don’t think he’s lying, nor have I figured out who that second man was, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and guess that Shadow is now his second man. They already conned that bank out of thousands and thousands of dollars, but is Shadow acting a part in a long con that he has no idea he is involved in? I think part of Wednesday’s need of this man is to pull off something else. Perhaps against the “bad guys,” whomever they might be?
Regardless, I was surprised to see the two part so soon after being reunited. Shadow takes on the identity of someone named Mike Ainsel. Was Ainsel a real person at one point or was the identity conceived out of nothing? I don’t know why Wednesday is forcing Shadow to go off on his own after he just spent a week with Jacquel and Ibis. That seems…not like a good idea? Shadow hasn’t really had much luck on his own, and Wednesday is purposely keeping him dark. That is a bad combination, if you ask me. But it’s the way things are, and after getting his own apartment, a new identity, and a Christmas bonus, Shadow does as he is told.
On the Greyhound bus to Lakeside, Wisconsin, Shadow has yet another dream with buffalo-head-god in it. I found this particularly striking from the dream:
“Well, Shadow? Do you believe yet?”
“I don’t know,” said Shadow. His mouth had not moved either, he observed. Whatever words were passing between the two of them were not being spoken, not in any way that Shadow understood speech. “Are you real?”
“Believe,” said the buffalo man.
ARGH WHY HAVEN’T I FIGURED OUT WHO BUFFALO MAN IS YET? I am trying to avoid Googling any of this because spoilers like to hide where we least expect it on Google. Look, it’s very true. But even if I don’t know who this god is supposed to me, perhaps these dreams are meant to create belief in Shadow so that he can give power to these forgotten gods. I MEAN WOULDN’T THAT BE COOL. Shadow could have an army of forgotten gods at his disposal! To…I don’t know? Punch bullies? I guess that theory isn’t thought out very well, but it’s a neat idea. Plus, the buffalo man even says, “This is not a land for gods.” Okay, so what is it? I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS.
“This land was brought up from the depths of the ocean by a diver,” said the fire. “It was spun from its own substance by a spider. It was shat by a raven. It is the body of a fallen father, whose bones are mountains, whose eyes are lakes.
“This is a land of dreams and fire,” said the flame.”
So, Anansi? Odin’s ravens? Yeah, this is total nonsense to me. WHAT IS THIS. But then the chapter heads straight for the absurd and…look, I have nothing witty or insightful to say about Shadow’s dream journey through the hole in the earth to the surface. To me, it does seem like birth, as if this “land of dreams and fire” has sent Shadow through this process in order to rebirth him anew. But…I feel like that’s a stretch, if anything, and I don’t know what it actually means. He offers up himself to the earth, but what does that entail?
“Soon,” said the crackling voice of the flame, coming from behind him, “they will fall. Soon they will fall and the star people will meet the earth people. There will be heroes among them, and men who will slay monsters and bring knowledge, but none of them will be gods. This is a poor place for gods.”
WHERE IS THIS PLACE? I have never felt like I understood so little about a book. What is going on?
I would be lying if I didn’t admit how grateful I was for Shadow to come back to “reality,” not only because I could understand things again, but because Hinzelmann is glorious. I am beginning to adore the side characters that Gaiman introduces in the book because they’re all so full of life. With Hinzelmann specifically, there’s nothing ironic about his personality, nor his interest in the world around him. I’m the kind of person who loves the history of the things around me because I want context and I want to know even the most banal minutia about my neighborhood or the historic buildings that were all erected around me. And sometimes that history is entirely anecdotal as well, like the oral history that Hinzelmann gives Shadow as he drives the scenic route around town. But it also highlights this absurd nature of small American cities (and not just in the United States) built mostly by a single person (or at least orchestrated that way) and how they remain connected to one person’s design or vision. There were large swaths of Riverside, the town I grew up in, that were still staunchly made in the style that the city’s founder, John W. North, wanted for the city. (HE IS LIKE GOD THERE TO SOME PEOPLE. It’s really weird to me! He didn’t even really live there that long! Oh god, small cities/towns are SO BIZARRE.)
I had this idea that Hinzelmann might be one of Wednesday’s plants, a god of some sort to help him out, but by the time he drops Shadow off at his new apartment, I think he’s just an ordinary guy who loves the town he lives in. There’s no strangeness to him, no ambiguous statements, no clues or hints to something beyond what Shadow has known about the world to this point. That being said, I might be biased because in comparison to what happens next, Hinzelmann is just…plain. He’s quite every day. It’s not every day that a man is able to remotely view what is happening to other people. Is this a result of that dream birth thing that happened to him? He’s not dreaming when he is able to see Laura, or to see Wednesday having sex, so I’m sure it’s really happening. omg did he get special powers THAT WOULD BE AWESOME.
Meanwhile. A Conversation.
Samantha Black Crow, you are my favorite and I am so glad you are back, if even for two pages, so we can get more of your flawless sassiness. Because no shame in this:
“Otherwise, you’ll have to introduce me to your friends Mister Thumbscrews and Mister Pentothal?”
Seriously. She is fantastic.