American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Sorry this one took so long to get up! My time in Spain is winding down, meaning I’ve had less time to read and less time to write as I give life here one last burst of energy. I finished this novel about a month ago, maybe more, so it’s not all fresh. Excuse any vagaries from memory failure.


Earlier this year when I asked my friends where I should start if I wanted to start reading Gaiman, American Gods was the immediate choice for all of them. From what I could gather, it was a good introduction to the style and ideas of Neil Gaiman. They were all correct.

What I found in this novel was a well-paced story of accessible (but still fantastic) fantasy that was deeply researched, interesting, funny, and full of delightful prose.

American Gods is an important read for writers, especially, because of a skillful balance that Gaiman has discovered. He seems to have stumbled upon the exact correct proportions of funny, shocking, sad, rewarding, and compelling with this book. This is one of very few books I’ve read that can consistently use dream to such great effect, developing characters and driving forward the plot. I’m particularly impressed with how appropriately he handled a few specific moments, including two big character deaths.

SPOILERS:

The death of Wednesday: When one of our central characters, Wednesday was killed by the new gods, I had to set the book down for a moment. I was suspicious. His death was abrupt, unceremonious, and felt rather cheap. I didn’t feel sad or upset, so much as disappointed. I invested a lot into him, trying to figure out his character and guess his next move and the way he died didn’t satisfy me. If it had been left at that, I would not have felt happy with this death. Then I worried, because there was a tugging notion in the prose and the procedure that made me believe Wednesday would come back. That’s disconcerting, because tricking a reader and bringing a character back/faking a death is often cheap and unsatisfying. I was worried Gaiman wouldn’t pull it off. IMO, he did it just right. The two-man grift, the partially, temporarily successful attempt at resurrection offered enough closure, fully developed Wednesday as a character, and ultimately left me content with his demise.

The death of Shadow: I felt similarly about this death. It just didn’t feel like Shadow would stay dead, and that was scary, especially because he was human and there were no special tricks up his sleeve that I could conceive of. I was immensely satisfied with Shadow’s spiritual journey through the underworld and with his decision to fade into nothingness. Because we reached that stage of acceptance with Shadow, it made his resurrection enjoyable because we were able to watch his negative reaction to being torn from nothingness and thrown back into life.

These are certainly two of the most interesting deaths/resurrections I’ve read in a long time. And feeling my reactions to them as they happened taught me a great deal about what a reader wants and needs from character death.

Probably the greatest thing I appreciated about this novel, though, is the immense amount of detail Gaiman offered us about the environments, the minutiae, and the belief systems he presented us with. I have an enormous bag of respect waiting for Gaiman should he ever choose to claim it, because of how impressed I was with the research that went into this book.

With that said, though, I wasn’t completely satisfied with the scope of the religions and cultures he represented. Of course, it would’ve been impossible for him to meaningfully represent every culture of the world in a 600-page novel, but most of the big characters from mythology were the easy choices, coming from popular European myth. It would’ve been nice to see a few more less popular, less anglo-centric gods be given fleshed out stories or characters. There was almost nothing from South America. Does that count as part of the barren America?

Which brings me to the subject of Native American representation. Gaiman justifies his plot-integral proposition that gods don’t thrive well in the Americas by stating that native religions were truly more about land-worship and idols than the creation of gods. I know little about most native religions, but 1) that’s a broad statement and 2) that just doesn’t seem fair. Can we truly say that or is this a case of misrepresentation and the molding of a culture to the author’s needs? I’m inclined to say the latter.

Despite my qualms with representation in this book, I did love it. I wouldn’t call it a master piece, but I would call it a brilliant piece of art that we can look to for inspiration.

Now, I’ve got a question about one part of the book that escaped me. Maybe someone can offer an opinion.

Toward the end, when Shadow is underneath the ice, passing out, he sees a vision of Whiskey Jack, the buffalo god, and the thunderbird god. They seem to be beckoning him, but as Hinzelmann grabs Shadow’s hand and rescues him, the gods turn away and seem to abandon him. Am I interpreting that right? If so, what is their reason for leaving him behind? Has he betrayed them by surviving or has he been tainted because the kobold saved his life? What’s going on here?!? It’s the one part of the book I couldn’t grasp and it’s been eating at me for weeks.

Please, someone, help me.

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Publication Day! and Other News

Hey readers, I’ve got a quick, exciting update for you. Most recent news first.

  1. I’m insanely happy to announce that my short story “Flat Nose, Empty Head” is now live at the fantastic Hypertext Magazine. Please please please pop over to their site and give it a read. This is my first publication and I couldn’t be more excited.
  2. If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you know I was struggling to decide my future next year. I’ve finally made a choice. If you want to find me after August of 2015, I’ll be at Iowa State University, writing and writing and writing. I look forward to seeing you there.
  3. A new review will be on the way soon. What book is it? One mentioned in a previous post: American Gods

That’s all for now. Until my next review!

Publication Day! and Other News

Remember a couple weeks ago when I was dying of anticipation?

In a previous post, I detailed the daunting task of waiting to hear back from admissions committees on MFA candidate decisions. As of last week, all the schools I was waiting on have responded to me.

The results were completely unexpected.

I applied to three schools this year, telling myself this was my practice year and that I would apply to more next year after receiving three prompt rejections. The three schools were: UCSD, University of Hawaii-Manoa, and Iowa State University.

Results:

  • UCSD: Rejected
  • UHM: Accepted
  • ISU: Accepted

I think I’m now dying all over again at being accepted at two of my favorite graduate programs in all of higher education.

Hawaii’s program (actually an M.A in creative writing) is one of the most unique programs I’ve ever seen. Professors study and teach in topics ranging from science fiction to native Hawaiian storytelling, and touch on topics such as gender, sexuality, and feminism within all these media. I’m astonished and so grateful that they picked me to be one of their cohort. I would love to be a part of that amazing program.

Iowa State is another great program with an interesting focus of environment. They tend to interpret this word loosely, but it makes for an interesting mishmash of social and natural environmental writers working together. Iowa also supports multi-genre focuses and wants me to work in both fiction and drama, which is exciting!

Unfortunately, for Hawaii, Iowa offers me free tuition plus a teaching assistantship. Hawaii currently isn’t able to offer me anything but admission. That’s understandable, but I do wish I was able to consider Hawaii without financial strains.

It looks like I’ll be in Iowa next year, writing my ass off and molding young freshman minds in composition classes. I can’t wait.

P.S. If you’ve heard from anyone else who got in at Iowa State, please put them in contact with me!

Remember a couple weeks ago when I was dying of anticipation?

The Quest for Higher Education

Last fall, a friend of mine convinced me to begin applying to MFA programs for creative writing. If you look at my resume or at the classes I took in university or at the extra-curriculars I joined, it’s obvious that writing was what I really wanted to do (even if I never said it out loud) despite majoring in Math and Linguistics. I got together my best fiction and my best plays and whatever money I could spare and sent out applications.

The prohibitive cost of graduate applications is a subject for another, much angrier post.

I’m aware that my chances to be placed in the programs I want are nowhere near 100%: I haven’t written as much as my peers, haven’t been as dedicated, haven’t honed my craft like they have. But still, it’s non-0. There’s a chance. And if nothing else, I figured, this can be my test run. My situation is currently comfortable enough that I can wait a year or two to get accepted if I need to. I’m extremely fortunate for that.

Despite my non-committal, flexible attitude, I had no idea what an emotional roller coaster this STUPID WAITING PROCESS would be.

Even though I am fully prepared for the worst, there’s a sliver of me that can’t help but be way, way too hopeful and every day I don’t hear back lengthens my anxious suffering. I don’t care if I’m accepted or rejected. I just want to know. Not knowing is surprisingly and increasingly hard.

I heard from an inside source (:P, not quite a secret) that decisions to one school would be made by February 9th and letters would come immediately that week. Well, it turns out that a faculty member was away for an extended period of time and couldn’t make decisions until much later. Some time next week, probably.  l That’s totally understandable. I can sympathize with that. But on the inside, I’m screaming. There’s an immediate sense of relief that comes after news like this. I DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT, NOT TODAY! But then, the looming sense of dread comes again in the week leading up to the new expected deadline.

As I told a friend yesterday, venting about this:

That news was like waiting to die and then being told my disease was in remission, but during the course of treatment, I’d developed another terminal disease and was still gonna die, just a little bit later than expected.

I am being a little dramatic? Yeah, way. But it’s interesting how powerful this anxiety can be, even when my whole future isn’t immediately riding on the decision.

I’ll hear from my schools eventually. But until then? I’ll be pulling my hair out every day.

The Quest for Higher Education