Posted in Academic, Book Review, Close Reading

Narrative Breaks in”American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

In works of¬†speculative fiction the reader¬†relies¬†on the authority of the author to convey the truth of the fantastical world, plot, and characters. In¬†American Gods¬†the main character, Shadow Moon, is caught in a war between the Old Gods and the New.¬†As the story¬†progresses,¬†the reader is treated to asides within the pages of the novel concerning the seemingly separate interludes¬†of ‚ÄúSomewhere in America‚Ä̬†and ‚ÄúComing to America.‚Ä̬†With these narrative breaks,¬†Gaiman¬†is¬†introducing¬†his reader¬†to¬†the ‚Äútruth‚ÄĚ of this work of low fantasy, converting the reader before the protagonist. Because of this, we will begin to believe before Shadow does.

‚Äú‚ÄėBilquis,‚Äô she tells him, raising her head. ‚ÄėWith a Q‚Äô‚ÄĚ (28). Less than thirty pages in¬†to¬†American Gods¬†the¬†story changes from Shadow and¬†a bar in the Midwest to ‚ÄúSomewhere in America¬†Los Angeles, California 11:26 P.M.‚ÄĚ (27).¬†This first aside¬†comes out of nowhere for the reader as they¬†turn the pages where a prostitute,¬†with an unusual name,¬†devours¬†her john. Literally.¬†Although, this is not¬†exactly¬†a¬†cannibalistic act, as it turns out it is one of utter religious devotion.¬†‚ÄúHe feels the lips of her vulva tight around his upper chest and back, constricting and enveloping him‚ĶHe wonders why he is not scared. And then he knows. ‚ÄėI worship you with my body,‚Äô he whispers‚Ķ‚ÄĚ (30).¬†Later it is revealed that¬†Bilquis¬†was one of the historical names given to the Queen of Sheba.

Gaiman has just revealed the first seeds of the magic to be discovered in his novel. Since the reader is the proxy of the author and characters, what happens in the text is vicariously happening to us. There have been several mystical happenings with protagonist Shadow by the time we meet the Salim and the ifrit (a djinn).

Another ‚ÄúSomewhere in America‚ÄĚ takes the reader to New York City where¬†Salim, a closeted Omani salesman is having an unsuccessful week¬†peddling¬†his brother in law‚Äôs copper trinkets. When he takes a taxi back to his hotel the cabdriver turns out to be¬†a legendary creature from the Middle East. The driver claimed to have been to a long forgotten city in Oman that had only been recently rediscovered. ‚Äú‚ÄėMy grandmother swore¬†that she had seen an¬†ifrit, or perhaps a¬†marid, late one evening, in the edge of the desert‚Ķits eyes, like yours, were burning flames‚Äô‚ÄĚ (188).¬†Salim¬†invites the¬†ifrit¬†back to his hotel room, they have a sexual encounter and when¬†Salim¬†wakes in the morning his possessions have been stolen. Like the john who was¬†consumed¬†by¬†Bilquis,¬†Salim¬†seems to shake off the encounter. He assumes the¬†ifit‚Äôs¬†assumed identity ‚ÄúIbrahim bin¬†Irem‚Ķthe photographs on the¬†(taxi)¬†license do not look much like¬†Salim, but then, they did not look much like the¬†ifrit‚ĶNew York is very simple‚Ķhow hard can it be?‚ÄĚ (191).

Just before¬†Gaiman¬†introduces us to the mysticism of the¬†ifrit¬†of the ancient lands of Oman, Shadow is in his hotel room when Lucy Ricardo on¬†I Love Lucy¬†starts to talk to him. She professes to be one of the New Gods, the god of the boob tube. When her offer to entice Shadow over to their side fails, the narrator relates some of Shadow‚Äôs thoughts to us. ‚Äú‚ĶHe guessed he would take a roadside attraction, no matter how cheap, how crooked, or how sad, over a shopping mall, any day‚ÄĚ (177).¬† The reader has already read of¬†the origins of some of the cheap roadside attractions in the¬†‚ÄúComing to¬†America‚Ä̬†segments. These are additional¬†breadcrumbs left by¬†Gaiman,¬†persuading¬†us to believe in these¬†American Gods¬†and their¬†mythology.

‚ÄúComing to¬†America¬†A.D. 813‚ÄĚ reimagines the first Vikings that touched North American soil.¬†Once they settled in to their new surroundings, drinking and singing songs of Odin, the All-Father.¬†Later on¬†a Native American¬†came upon into their party¬†and the Vikings hung him from a tree. ‚ÄúAnd, the next day, when two huge ravens landed upon the¬†scraeling‚Äôs¬†corpse, one on each shoulder‚Ķthe men knew their sacrifice had been accepted‚ÄĚ (69). The reader¬†is¬†learning before the main character that the gods of the old world came with the people who worshiped them as they crossed the seas. When¬†Lief, son of Erik the Red came to America, because of the sacrifice of the¬†scraeling, ‚Äúhis gods were already waiting for him when he arrived‚ĶThey were there. They were waiting.‚ÄĚ

For¬†American Gods, Neil¬†Gaiman¬†interweaves a lot of established mythology¬†regarding these Old and New Gods. Not only is the main character caught up in a war amongst these figures, many of¬†which¬†are still powerful and dangerous despite being¬†mostly forgotten,¬†so is the reader.¬†The interludes of ‚ÄúSomewhere in America‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúComing to¬†America‚ÄĚ give more depth to the complexity of the story than Shadow‚Äôs third person limited narrative can provide. It also lays the clues for the final battle in the end where the reader, like the old gods, has already arrived. Though we are more versed in this world than Shadow by the end,¬†we will¬†still wait for¬†him, and follow in his journey¬†with him¬†until the last page.

 

Works Cited

Gaiman, Neil. American Gods. New York: Harper Perennial, 2001. Print.

 

©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

©Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com, 2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and gingerleethomason.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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